Ten things to know about El Niño

  1. El Niño is part of an important climate phenomena called ENSO, or the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. ENSO includes the climate patterns of El Niño, La Niña and when the atmosphere is in a neutral state.

 

  1. El Niño, which translates to “the little one” or “the child” in Spanish, was named by fisherman off the coast of South America who recognized the shifts in water temperatures.

Related: Atmospheric quirk protects Florida during busy hurricane seasons

  1. An El Niño occurs when there is a warming of the central and equatorial Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures (SSTs) to above average. When the waters warm, it disrupts rainfall patterns, reducing showers over Indonesia and increasing them over the Pacific Ocean.

 

El Nino creates stronger westerly winds that can work to shred hurricanes in the Atlantic during storm season.

El Nino creates stronger westerly winds that can work to shred hurricanes in the Atlantic during storm season.

  1. The change in rainfall affects air flow so that winds that traditionally blow east to west, start blowing west to east. The traditional easterly wind pattern is also referred to as the trade winds.

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  1. An El Niño occurs about every three to seven years.

Related: El Nino, Florida’s hurricane bodyguard declared dead 

  1. Hurricane seasons in the Atlantic are usually less active during El Niño years because the change in wind pattern works to cut down growing tropical cyclones with wind shear – winds moving in different directions with height. Hurricanes in the Pacific are typically more active during El Niño years.
Image from NOAA's GOES-12 of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Image from NOAA’s GOES-12 of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

 

  1. During winter, an El Niño means a wetter, stormier season for the southeastern U.S., including Florida. Florida can experience damaging tornado outbreaks during El Niño years.

 

  1. Some El Niño events are stronger than others. One of the strongest El Niño was measured during 1997-1998. The 2015-2016 El Niño was also exceptionally strong, earning the nickname “Godzilla.”

Related: Watch funeral for the Godzilla El Nino 

  1. A La Niña climate pattern usually follows El Niño as the warm water piling up in the Pacific sloshes back toward Indonesia.

 

  1. El Niño events can last from several months to more than a year depending on their strength.

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