Climate Connections: El Niño

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Scientists are concerned that the next strong El Niño — when it occurs and not if it occurs — may pack a greater wallop and more widespread and costly damages across North America.

Listen to today’s Climate Connection

In the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of buoys float in the waves. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, uses this network of buoys to monitor ocean temperature, currents and winds to help predict global weather patterns. When Pacific Waters along the equator are unusually warm, an el Niño is likely on the way.

A strong el Niño can influence weather around the world — bringing drought to some, rain to others, even lessening the severity of Atlantic hurricanes. In the U.S., the north is typically drier, while the south and west are more prone to heavy rains during the autumn and winter months. That’s potentially good news for drought stricken areas from California to Florida.

But there’s also a downside. The last really powerful el Niño, in 1997 and 1998, brought major storms that battered the California coast. Flooding and mud slides caused severe property damage and left thousands homeless. Scientists worry that the next major el Niño, whether it happens this year or later, could be even more devastating — especially since both rising global temperatures and higher sea levels could lead to more widespread and costly damages. I’m Anthony Leiserowitz.

Climate Connections is produced by the Yale Center for Environmental Communication. Learn more at www.YaleClimateConnections.org.

Reporting credits: Bud Ward and ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo Credit: An Ocean Climate Station mooring — an anchored buoy — located southeast of South Africa (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association).

More Resources
Big Question: This Year’s [2014] El Ni&ntildeo: How Big? How Destructive?
Kevin Trenberth on El Niño, Pt. 2 (Video)
ENSO: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions, August 2014.
Climate Diagnostics Bulletin, June 2014, NOAA National Weather Service.
El Nino weather hits many crops, boosts soybeans — study

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2 Responses to Climate Connections: El Niño

  1. this broadcast is devoid of information, sorry to say. it falls in my view in the hype category. i wrote in 1994 that El Nino science and forecasts were a gift to the 21st century. it has not turned out that way given the hype of early 2014 about an event similar to 1997-9 to a most recent downgrading to a weak El Nino by the Australian Met. service. but this radio comment goes on the say that future event will be worse than the ’97-’98 “El Nino of the Century”. El Nino is something to be wary of but the forecasts are also something to be wary of as well. we need to put a leash on science hype and be better at separating hype and wishful thinking by researchers awaiting the next big event to study from those doing the real hype-less research. mickey

  2. Diane Melin, Ph.D. says:

    I really appreciate advanced weather possibilities. It gives me time to prepare, and also alert friends around the CA coast, and other areas in the U.S. I don’t care if El Nino diverts or not. The damages can be way too devastating not to pay attention to clues and warnings. I’ll bet large numbers of people on the Titanic wished things had been different with the Captain. Thanks!