Magazine article Science News

El Nino Episode Brews in the Pacific Ocean

Magazine article Science News

El Nino Episode Brews in the Pacific Ocean

Article excerpt

After fooling several researchers and a few computers last year, Mother Nature has cooked up an El Nino warming in the Pacific Ocean. The climatic event started off slowly, but experts say it could intensify in the next few months, altering weather patterns around the globe.

"In the last three or four months, there's been a good trend toward an El Nino and probably at this point we'd have to say that at least a weak one is in progress," says Vernon Kousky of the National Weather Service's Climate Analysis Center in Camp Springs, Md.

The term El Nino refers to an abnormal warming of equatorial waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. Changes in atmospheric pressure patterns accompany the warming, and the two phenomena can warp world weather for 12 months or more. El Nino events tend to dry out Australia and India while bringing rains to the west coast of South and Central America. They also suppress Atlantic hurricanes, says William M. Gray of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Several classic El Nino characteristics have developed in recent months, sparking the interest of meteorologist. Surface waters in the equatorial Pacific have warmed 1 to 1.5 [degrees] C above normal in a broad belt stretching from 170 [degrees] E to 5 [degrees] W. Also, the normally strong easterly winds (blowing toward the west) have weakened, inhibiting the usual upwelling of cold water along the South American coast. Such changes prompted the Climate Analysis Center to issue advisories in mid-June and mid-July, announcing the beginning stages of an El Nino.

At present, though, several important El Nino features have yet to materialize. Thunderstorms and atmospheric convection have not moved from the west into the central Pacific and warm water has not appeared immediately along the west coast of South America. Kousky says the next few months should reveal whether the El Nino will intensify or not. …

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