What is El Nino?

Published 05/28 2014 05:29PM

Updated 05/28 2014 06:07PM

Courtesy of NASA
Courtesy of NASA
   The term El Nino gets used a great deal now by the media and is making the headlines once again as one is expected to strengthen over the coming months. So what is El Nino and why does it matter? It's actually an event in the Pacific Ocean, but has rippling effects on weather patterns across the world.  It marks a semi-regular period of warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, with most significant warming found  near the northern coast of South America. This periodic shift in sea temperatures was first recognized by fishermen in the 1600’s and has since been referred to as El Nino. Since the usual peak was around Christmas, the event was termed with the spanish phrase, El Nino, which means The Child. Occurring every three to five years, an El Nino event can last from a few weeks to up to 12 months.   

    El Nino provides reasoning for irregularity in weather patterns across the United States.  Events such as droughts and flooding can all be traced back to this one event.  Normally the greatest direct impact is more precipitation for Southern California and through the southern tier of the United States. This may also help with drought stricken areas in the South-Central United states this summer, but the largest effects are felt during the winter.  During the winter, wet weather likely will continue for California to the U.S Gulf Coast and Florida, while drier than average conditions will be experienced over the Pacific Northwest and the Ohio Valley. 

    While an El Nino is in the Pacific Ocean its effects can also be felt throughout the Atlantic, especially during hurricane season.  During an El Nino season there is a notable decline in both the frequency and strength of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean compared to a typical hurricane season.

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