What is this El Nino Thing Anyway?
El Niño. It’s a phrase you hear quite a bit these days, in conjunction with the unseasonable weather our area has been experiencing to date this winter. But what is it, and what are its effects on weather, economics, and day to day life?
El Niño means “the little boy” or “Christ child” in Spanish. Fisherman off the coast of South America in the 1600’s recognized the appearance of periods of unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean, and began using the term in conjunction with this phenomenon based on the time of year in December it usually occurred. The pattern happens when winds in the Pacific weaken or reverse direction, resulting in a warming of the ocean in the central and eastern Pacific, mainly along the Equator. Scientists still not know all the causes which contribute to this. Clouds and storms follow the warm water, altering jet stream paths and storm paths around the world. These events generally happen every two to seven years on average, and typically last for nine to twelve months, but the long term effects can last for years.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the biggest impacts are expected in early 2016, and forecasts call for “several months of relatively cool and wet conditions across the southern United States, and relatively warm and dry conditions over the northern United States.” This can either be a boon or a disaster, depending on where you are and the severity of the weather. Drought parched California is receiving much needed rain, but ironically, flooding may now be problematic. And in areas which rely on cold and snow for economic stimulus, including ski resorts, the warm winter has been a disaster.
The effects of this event have worldwide implications as well. “The humanitarian aid agency Oxfam International issued a press release that warned “The El Niño weather system could leave tens of millions of people facing hunger, water shortages and disease next year if early action isn’t taken to prepare vulnerable people from its effects.” For example, according to the agency, the Ethiopian government estimates 10.2 million people will need humanitarian assistance next year due to a drought worsened by El Niño effects, and in Malawi, 2.8 million people are estimated to experience food shortages before March.
Stay tuned to Allegheny Mountain Radio for upcoming stories on how this unusual weather is affecting the residents and economies of our listening area.