Scientists: Brace for a severe El Nino winter
CNN 20 August 1997 From Correspondent Dick Wilson
(CNN) -- Translated from Spanish, the phrase El Nino -- the name given to a weather phenomenon now occurring in the Pacific Ocean -- means "the little one" or, since it occurs around Christmastime, "the Christ child."
But the damage it can cause is far from little.
During an earlier episode in August 1983, high winds and heavy rains in the Arizona desert flooded homes, turned streets into streams and toppled power lines. Storms that winter destroyed 33 oceanfront homes in California.
Already this year, record snowfall in the Peruvian Andes forced the government to declare a national emergency in parts of the country.
And scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego warned Wednesday that precipitation patterns could be severely disrupted this winter in many parts of the United States.
New predictions from both government and private scientists say the latest El Nino could be severe one.
Scientists say El Nino is a natural weather cycle that disrupts ocean and atmospheric temperatures in the tropical Pacific. Ocean water temperatures have already risen five to 10 degrees in some areas, prompting concerns about marine life.The effects of this disruption on weather around the globe can be devastating.
"Every piece of evidence we get as time goes along shows us El Nino (is) continuing to evolve, continuing to be a very powerful, very awesome event," says the institute's Nick Green. "It's like watching Mount St. Helens erupt in slow motion."
El Nino normally occurs every three to five years and can last up to 12 months.
Officials are forecasting that the southwestern and eastern United States could see as much as three times normal rainfall. Violent storms could pummel the California coastline. Residents in the northwestern states could suffer from lower than normal rainfall and possibly droughts.
Meanwhile, people living in the Southern Hemisphere near the Pacific are being warned to get ready for a wet and possibly dangerous holiday season near the end of the year.
The last bout with El Nino, in 1993 and 1994, was not a severe one. But those with longer memories may recall the devastation during 1983, which led to global damage estimated at $25billion.
Reuters Aug 28, 1997 By Elif Kaban
GENEVA (Reuter) - El Nino, an abnormal tropical Pacific Ocean weather pattern which causes devastating droughts and floods, could become the ``climate event of the century'' and surpass its devastating 1982-83 episode, scientists said Wednesday.
The freak weather condition, which could play havoc with crops and, indirectly, with financial markets, has emerged as a key factor for global investors in emerging markets from Latin America to Africa.
Jagadish Shukla, head of the Washington-based Institute of Global Environment and Society, told a scientific gathering in Geneva that the phenomenon, which disrupts global rainfall and wind patterns, caused record sea surface temperatures in July.
The weather pattern could be ``the climate event of the century,'' he was quoted in a statement as telling delegates at Geneva's Conference on the World Climate Research Program, which is being attended by 300 scientists from more than 100 countries.
El Nino is an abnormal state of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific which causes exceptionally warm and long-lived ocean currents. It affects the weather not only locally but can also can cause droughts or flooding in far-flung regions.
Shukla said that El Nino -- Spanish for ``The Child'' and named after Jesus by Peruvian fishermen because it tends to peak around Christmas -- could surpass this century's strongest episode which peaked in the winter of 1982-83.
That episode, which hit areas of South America and in particular Peru, is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of almost 2,000 people and caused at least $13 billion worth of damage.
South America suffered both flooding and drought as typical rainfall patterns were turned upside down by warming waters.
In Peru, the economy shrank by 12 percent during the period and the national fishing industry was decimated.
There were acute water shortages in Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and southern Africa, while both the United States and Western Europe were hit by storms and floods.
Investors, crop analysts and economists from West Africa and South America to Australia are closely watching the odd effects of El Nino, which can be a havoc on agricultural and economic output and cause flash flooding that can sever road and rail links.
Forecasts on El Nino allow farmers to plant appropriate crops depending on whether it will be a dry year or unseasonally wet, and take precautions such as pre-emptive flood control measures.
Shukla said forecast models, ocean observations and satellite data showed the sea surface temperature in the eastern tropic Pacific in July had ``exceeded all previous records.''
``Regional manifestations of this major climate event are already being noticed in several parts of the world,'' the Indian-born expert added in a technical presentation to experts. He was expected to give a news briefing later on Wednesday.
The United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which is hosting the Geneva conference, said that the current strong El Nino episode, expected to persist into early 1998, had caused wetter than normal conditions over the islands of the central tropical Pacific and in Chile and Argentina, and drier than normal conditions over parts of eastern Australia and Indonesia.
In Indonesia, traders say a drought linked to El Nino is already blistering coffee trees, causing fears of a reduced crop, while in the Philippines, weathermen say the phenomenon is causing rice and corn growing areas in the south to dry up.
In the Ivory Coast, where rain picked up in cocoa-producing areas in mid-August, crop analysts say that if an El Nino weather pattern hitting other parts of the world brought dry weather before October, harvest potential could be cut by up to 25 percent.
Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited.