"It is a shame that almost everyone blames bad events such as floods, droughts, fish kills and heat waves on El Niño. El Niño is a good dude!"
James O'Brien
Center for Ocean Atmosphere
Prediction Studies,
Florida State University

What's the fact and what's the hype?

     El Niño has been and continues to be the most widely publicized weather event this year. However, not all of the things you have heard are true. El Niño is a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific. El Niño is not caused by global warming and does not necessarily portend the coming of severe storms to Southern California this winter. On the contrary, El Niño can also cause droughts.

Here's how it works.

      Normally, trade winds blow from east to west causing a pile up of warm surface water in the west Pacific so that the sea surface is about 1/2 meter higher at Indonesia than at Ecuador. To replace the water that has been blown to the west, cold nutrient-rich water rises up from the depths along the coast of South America. This nutrient-rich water supports a diversity of marine life, and, in turn, supports the fisherman in South America.

     When an El Niño event takes place (every four years or so), these trade winds relax and the water that once "piled up" in the western Pacific, sloshes back towards the west, causing the end of the nutrient-rich upwelled coastal water (and thus a downturn in the fishing industry as well).

     Because of the close coupling of the ocean and the atmosphere, these changes in warm water also brings rainfall. This results in a wide variety of changes in global atmospheric changes, which forces weather changes in regions far removed from the tropical Pacific. For instance, the presence of El Niño reduces the number of hurricanes over in the Atlantic Ocean.

Now on to the experts.

     Through cooperation with the California Coastal Commission we have compiled several checklists of items to prepare you for any winter storms. These checklists can be found in the left hand margin.

     Florida State University is home to several El Niño researchers. They have compiled an excellent list of resources for scientific information regarding El Niño.