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What is El Nio?

El Nio is a periodic change in the currents of the Pacific Ocean that occurs every five to eight years and brings unusually warm water to the coast of northern South America. It often leads to severe climate disruption to countries in and beside the Pacific. El Nino is the most disastrous climatic events, a shattering of normal weather patterns that inflicted drought, flood, and fire on every continent except Antarctica and, probably, Europe. The cause was a periodic heating of the equatorial Pacific Ocean known as El Nio, The Child, an allusion in Spanish to the Christ child, because South Americans often feel its warm ocean current about Christmastime. This Nio fell hardest on the eastern half of Australia.

Fiery Consequences of El Nio

An unusually strong occurrence of the quasiperiodic weather phenomenon called El Nio had environmental ramifications across much of the planet in 1997. The onset of El Nio a warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific delayed the monsoons in Indonesia. As a result, the fires that Indonesian companies set each year to clear forest for farming burned out of control on Borneo and Sumatra for several weeks, consuming millions of acres of tropical forest. The resulting shroud of lung-damaging smog enveloped major cities in Malaysia and Indonesia, including Singapore. Unusually dry conditions, blamed largely on El Nio, allowed wildfires to destroy millions of acres of rain forest in Brazil's Amazon Basin. Bush fires also raged in eastern Australia. Meanwhile, starting in November, torrential rains brought on by El Nio caused flooding and mud slides in Ecuador that resulted in more than two dozen deaths.

Forecasts are also available for seasonal hurricane activity. Seasonal forecasts predict factors such as the overall number of storms. Led by the efforts of atmospheric scientist William Gray and his team at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, scientists are able to make such predictions up to a year in advance using complex statistical models. These models are based on such information as the strong connection between hurricane activity and atmospheric factors such as El Nio (the warming of the Pacific Ocean, typically occurring every three to seven years). Seasonal forecasting of hurricane activity cannot tell scientists where or when a particular storm will strike, but it can project overall features of a hurricane season, providing useful information to officials in such fields as emergency management and insurance.

1987 Oceanography: El Nio

For more than a year, unusually warm waters occurred in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Thus, 1987 was another year when a so-called El Nio dominated the weather news. The warm water along the equator in the Central Pacific altered atmospheric circulation, with results felt

throughout the world. The situation was detected early in 1987 and was carefully monitored by the Climate Analysis Center of the National Weather Service. In the United States the effects were most apparent in the less-than-normal number of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic. The effects were also noticeable in the Pacific. Sea birds on tropical islands were decimated when weaker-than-normal winds reduced upwelling and associated fish production along the equator. Conditions that were drier than normal prevailed throughout the southwest Pacific. Shifts in the planetary winds also disrupted the monsoons in India. The lack of rain caused serious food shortages, and the government had to import rice to prevent starvation. In earlier years, a failure of the monsoon would have resulted in famine and the deaths of thousands. Now, however, El Nios can be predicted six to nine months before they occur, giving governments time to plan so they can alleviate the hardships El Nios cause.