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What is El Nio?

El Nio is the warm phase of the El Nio-Southern Oscillation cycle (ENSO). The ENSO
cycle is the way scientists describe the uctuations in temperature between the
atmosphere and the ocean in the east-central Equatorial Pacic. Basically, El Nio is a
naturally occurring phenomenon that is linked to a periodic warming in sea
surfacetemperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacic. El Nio is
Spanish for the boy child, which is often used to refer to Jesus Christ, and the
phenomenon earned this name because it typically occurs in December around
Christmas. El Nio occurs every 2-7 years, and can last anywhere between nine months
and two years.
El Nio and La Nia are opposite phases of El Nio-Southern Oscillation(ENSO) cycle.
While El Nio as the warm phase of ENSO, La Nia is sometimes referred to as the cold
phase of ENSO.
According to Wikipedia,

El Nio is the warm phase of the El Nio Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO)
and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and
east-central equatorial Pacic (between approximately the International Date Line and
120W), including o the Pacic coast of South America.
The cool phase of ENSO is called La Nia with SST in the eastern Pacic below average
and air pressures high in the eastern and low in western Pacic. The ENSO cycle, both El
Nio and La Nia, causes global changes of both temperatures and rainfall.

Both El Nio and La Nia typically last nine to 12 months. The frequency of occurring of
El Nio is more than La Nia. The presence of El Nio can signicantly inuence ocean
conditions and weather patterns across large portions of the globe.

What Causes El Nio?


The following are the conditions in the equatorial Pacic Ocean prior to the occurrence
of El Nio:
The tropical pacic has consistent westerly moving trade winds. The trade winds
push warm water on the surface of the ocean from east to west (westerly). This
causes the warm water to build up on the western side of the ocean near Asia.
Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the ocean, near Central and South America, cold
waters are pushed up towards the surface. Because of this, there is a dierence in
temperature across the equatorial pacic, with warm water to the west and cold
water to the east.
The warm water in the west heats the air, making the warm air rise and leading to
drastic weather, including rain and thunderstorms. The rising warm air causes a
circulation between east and west in the Pacic, with the warm, moist air rising in the
west, and cool, dry air descending in the east.
All of these natural occurrences lead to a reinforcement of the easterly winds, and
cause a self-perpetuating motion in the air in the Pacic.

This self-perpetuating motion in the air in the Pacic continues until the slow changes in
the ocean around the equator lead to a series of events known as El Nio:
Under the proper conditions, the trade winds are weakened, causing less warm
surface water to be pushed to the west, and less cold water to be pulled to the
surface in the east. Parts of the ocean that are cold during the usual self-perpetuating
cycle become warmer, cancelling out the normal dierence in temperature in the
equatorial Pacic between east and west.
With the ocean temperature evened out, and the warmest waters being more toward
the center of the ocean, the cloudy, rainy weather that typically occurs in the east
now occurs in the center of the ocean.
Rainfall patterns over the equatorial pacic are changed due to the diminishing of the
trade winds and movement of warm water.
This movement of the warm waters also causes a change in the wind cycles. The wind
is now blowing out from the center of the ocean to the east and to the west.
All of this leads to drastic changes in temperature and weather around the world.

What are The Eects of El Nio on the


Weather?
The main impacts of El Nio occur in and around the Tropics. The following are some of
the eects El Nio has on the weather in this part of the world:
In South America, there is a drastic increase in the risk of ooding on the western
coast, while there is an increase in the risk of droughts on parts of the eastern coast.
In eastern countries, like India and Indonesia, there is an increase in droughts.
In general, El Nio causes vast amounts of rainfall in the eastern parts of the Pacic
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(the western coast of South America), and very dry weather on the western parts
(India, Indonesia).

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With all the extra heat at the surface of the Pacic Ocean, energy is released into the
atmosphere, causing an overall warming of the global climate temporarily. Years in
which El Nio occurs tend to feature higher temperatures across the globe.
The eects of El Nio on the weather peak in December and can last for several
months after that.
After El Nio, the trade and easterly winds often fall back into their normal, selfperpetuating cycle. However, on some occasions the eect is reversed in a process
called La Nia. During La Nia, the trade winds are strengthened, causing the normal
cycle to be more dramatic and having the reverse eect of El Nio.

What is La Nia?

What is La Nia?
La Nia is a strengthening of the normal trade winds that typically occurs after El Nio.
Basically, the normal, non-El Nio wind cycle is reinforced, pushing the warmest waters
in the equatorial pacic further west than normal, and increasing the pulling up of cold
water to the surface in the east. La Nia has an eect on global weather, as well, and
this eect is typically the opposite of El Nio, causing droughts in the eastern equatorial
Pacic and oods in the western equatorial pacic.

What are the Economic Eects of El Nio?


In Asian countries, there is typically a decrease in rice production. With an increase in
droughts on the western side of the equatorial Pacic, GDP in the countries in that
area tend to drop during the El Nio cycle. For countries in that area that harvest rice,
water is needed, and the lack of rain can have a huge impact on their rice production.
Because rice production is of great importance in many of these Asian countries, El
Nio has a negative impact on these countries economies.
In non-Asian countries that are impacted by these El Nio related droughts, such as
Australia, the droughts can cause a decrease in the harvesting of other crops, like
wheat. For farmers and exporters of these crops, El Nio has a very negative
economic impact, similar to that of rice production and exportation in the Asian
countries.
Meanwhile, the dramatic increase in rainfall on the eastern side of the equatorial
Pacic drastically increases the chances of ooding in countries in that area. This
ooding can cause property damage to the point where people have to leave their
homes and seek shelter elsewhere. The ooding can also cause damage to crops,
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leading to a similar impact economically that occurs with the droughts on the
western part of the equatorial Pacic.

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Fishing in equatorial coastal countries like Ecuador and Peru becomes dicult, as sh
in the waters near these countries tend to disappear in the months of December and
January.

Overall, the drastic change in weather that occurs due to El Nio has a negative
economic impact on many countries near the equator. While normal years oer
more stable weather, thus leading to more predictable eects on certain markets, El
Nio years have a dramatic shift in the weather pattern that leads to extreme
weather on either side of the equatorial Pacic. This extreme weather, whether it be
drought or ood, has a negative impact on the living conditions and extraction of
natural resources in Tropical countries.
El Nio is a naturally occurring event, and there is nothing that can be done to stop its
eects on the weather or on people around the world. However, because it can typically
be noticed by meteorologists, people in the countries aected by it can take measures
in order to curb some of the impact.
Whether it be preparing for oods or droughts, people in the countries aected by El
Nio must take the steps necessary to protect themselves. This can include stocking up
on water in the case of a drought, or making sure their homes are able to handle ood
waters. Because of the eect on many important crops in these countries, some steps
for preparation might also include stocking up on these crops in preparation for the
droughts or for damage caused by the ooding.
Source: NOAA
Image credit: Fondriest Environmental

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Rinkesh
Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since
2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He
lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment
around him.

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