El Nino Dissipating, but Effects Not Gone

March 4, 2010

Reuters is reporting today that the currently active El Nino weather anomaly, which causes abnormal warming of the water in the equatorial parts of the Pacific Ocean, is dissipating, and – in the Northern Hemisphere – it should be gone by early summer, though there is a chance it may merely weaken substantially, and linger throughout 2010.

Reuter’s information comes directly from the CPC – the federal government’s Climate Prediction Center – which is part of the United States National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Their recent monthly update reported that the hallmark warm Pacific waters are slowly cooling, and that such an easing will result in “…neutral conditions” in June or July. However, the CPC also said that there are, “…everal models (which) suggest the potential of continued weak El Nino conditions through 2010, while others predict the development of La Nina conditions later in the year.”

Typically, El Nino results in chaotic global weather patterns, most notably in the Asia-Pacific region. It was first noticed by Latin American anchovy fisherman in the 19th century, who nicknamed it “Little Boy,” a reference to the Christ child, because it traditionally arrives around Christmas time. The opposite anomaly, La Nina, leads to cooler waters in the Pacific Ocean, and is often said to spark storm formation during the annual Atlantic hurricane season.

The 2009-2010 El Nino has been moderate to strong, says the CPC, with sea surface temperatures remaining warm through February, but is is also linked to the severe winter storms which have hammered the eastern United States. It was also blamed for a weak monsoon which caused severe damage to the Indian cane crop, forcing the price of sugar to a 29-year high. In addition, El Nino is believed to be connected to a severe dry spell which has hit the countries of Indonesia and the Philippines, forcing the later to increase their rice imports. The Philippines is already the world’s largest importer of the grain.

As the year progresses, the United States should expect above-average rainfall in the southwestern and south-central states, and Florida, and below-average precipitation in the Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest regions.

The “good” news – at least for residents of the Atlantic seaboard, is that if El Nino continues into June, it may hinder the formation of Atlantic hurricanes this year.