The El Nino weather pattern is usually characterized by abnormal warming of the waters around the month of January. We see images of dried-up wells, cracked form grounds, as well as resulting periods of long drought.
There is also a rise in temperature, which in turn creates a change in the weather conditions with sometimes cause some serious environmental and even economic impacts. In the sequence when trade winds die out and ocean waters become unusually warm, an El Nino weather pattern occurs worldwide.
El Nino is can be clearly defined as “a disruption of the ocean atmosphere system in the tropical pacific having some important consequences for weather and climate around the world” as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It has a significant effect on both the Atlantic and Pacific hurricane frequency with an average duration lasting between nine to twelve months in the year. It occurs infrequently which cannot be predicted, somewhere between every two to seven years. Some refer to it as “Godzilla” due to its possible effects on climate change.
Among the climactic effects of El Nino are shifts in the standard paths of typhoons, causing draughts in some regions, and even flooding at other regions. Most times El Nino had partly been blamed for the forest and brush fires in some countries. Even some temperate regions are not left out from this change of weather patterns as countries like US, Canada, Japan and Korea. Their winter months have been generally reported to be colder than usual and with higher than normal snowfall.
A lesser known fact about El Nino is that it actually slows the rotation of the earth by affecting air currents surrounding the globe. But do not worry! It’s only by an extremely small fraction of it and not enough to change your daily routine, nor can it affect things such as how an airplane flies.
In reality El Niño is just one phase of a two phase system. La Niña is the counterpart to El Niño, yet receives much less attention. Therefore the oscillations of temperature anomalies asymmetrically bare the name el Niño. Historically la Niña has proven to be more consistent which makes weather-men happy because they get to be right more often than usual.
Why is it important to me?
Regardless of where you may live in the world, you may experience a drier or wetter climate than usual due to the El Niño weather patterns. If you live near a coastal region, hurricanes or tropical storms could impact your life more during the next year.
Is it only all about the ocean?
Off course, with 71% of the earth’s surface covered with water and 96.5% of that water are held in our oceans, it would be a hard argument to dispute the effect water has on our general climate. El Nino is a proven fact to this not a theory, however, theories do abound with scientists on exactly how this weather phenomenon works.
The Peruvian anchoveta fishery, which is the biggest single species fishery in the world, typically collapses during El Niño events. In normal years, several million metric tons of fish are harvested from this region off the coast of countries like Peru. But during months like December, January and February, it is unlikely the fish are going to be abundant, which will have devastating impacts on the economy and industries that depend on the anchoveta fishery.
Also off the coast of North America, there will be declines in some fish stocks, specifically in the cold water fish stocks, like anchovy, that are important prey for a lot of species of fishes like tuna, whales, sea birds, seals and sea lions. So the loss of the anchovy off North America will also impact those higher predators too in the chain.
For most people, the Spanish words El Nino (“little child”) and La Nina (“little girl”) are simple, nice and harmless words. Who would have thought they mean agricultural trouble rising temperatures and erratic weather patterns? However, weather patterns associated with El Nino and La Nina have completely changed the coffee growing season in Peru. This single weather fluctuation is Peru’s challenge and a big reason why this country struggles to be a leading coffee world producer.
What About Impacts For Beach-Goers And Coastal Communities?
Thanks to El Niño, beachgoers have more to worry about than shark attacks and a deluge of sewage and plastic as highly venomous sea snakes are usually washing ashore too. Sea snakes do not travel well on land and it’s hurting more wildlife than just one scary snake.
Also thousands of crabs have found their way to shore in beaches in this period. Prompted to travel north owing to El Niño–triggered warm weather, the crabs struggle out of water, leaving the beaches coated in dead red crustaceans.
Seabirds are also affected as they begin to die at an alarming rate at the seashores. As a result the waters has pushed the fish deeper into cold waters, and the birds simply can’t reach them.
How El Nino Effects Pelagic Sea Life
A host of marine animals feed on phytoplankton, including whales, jellyfish, and shrimp. As El Niño weakens upwelling of cool nutrient rich water to the ocean surface, the amount of phytoplankton decreases for them to eat. Because phytoplankton make up the bottom of the oceans food web, decreased supplies affect not only the fish that eat them but those animal predators as well. The appearance of dangerous animals like hammerhead sharks due to an increased hunt for food sources, mainly smaller fish and squid.