La Niña coming after biggest El Niño in 15 years?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

global temp
Scientists examine temperatures around the equator (the midpoint between the South Pole and North Pole), to determine potential weather patterns. The warming of the Pacific Ocean to the west of the USA may bring El Niño’s wacky weather upon us.

Wacky weather is clouding the horizon, as El Niño returns! El Niño (Spanish for “the boy”) is characterized by warming temperatures around the Pacific Ocean near the equator, and the phenomenon can have global consequences. When this event occurred in the 1990s, the USA’s West Coast was bombarded with powerful storms, mudslides, and floods which left thousands of individuals homeless. Now, climate scientists from the United Nations predict a “Godzilla” level El Niño this year, which is expected to be the worst in 15 years.

The tropical Pacific Ocean receives more sunlight than any other place on the Earth, and its surface water is warmed up by the bright rays. A constant stream of wind blowing from east to west normally pushes this heated pool towards Indonesia and Australia. During an El Niño event, however, the strong winds cease to blow and the warm water spills eastward towards the Americas. This consequently brings raging storms to the USA and the Gulf of Mexico, while Indonesia and Australia experience parched droughts. The phenomenon occurs every three to seven years, and is agitated by particularly warm weather. Drought-stricken California could certainly use the rainfall that El Niño would bring to the state! And, judging by the downpour this week, watery help is on the way.

Researchers constantly keep track of the weather around the Tropical Pacific, and it appears that water temperatures now are similar to those before the El Niño of the 90s. El Niño is typically followed by a sister event called La Niña (Spanish for “the girl”), which is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

Featured image courtesy of ingridtaylar on Flickr. Image of global temperature courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.