|"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!"
Center for Ocean Atmosphere
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
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.