El Nino? El What?
El Niño has become a buzz-worthy term these last few weeks. If you’re a curious sort, or a weather buff, or you love Google as much as I do, then you’ve probably done your share of “official research” on the subject. If not, here’s El Niño in a nutshell:
Picture a bowl of cold water sitting in the sun – this represents the Pacific Ocean. Naturally, the surface of the water will become warmer because of the sun. Now, picture a fan blowing on high, across the top of the water – this represents easterly trade-winds. The air movement not only serves to cool down the surface of the water, but also blows waves towards the opposite side of the bowl, causing the water to move and churn, bringing cooler water upward. In the real world and during “normal” weather conditions, strong trade winds blow from the east, pushing warmer surface waters towards the west piling up to the point that the sea’s surface is actually higher near Indonesia than it is in Ecuador.
During an El Niño, it’s like someone turns the fan down (or off) and at the same time, surface water gets warmer. Sometimes, the fan is moved to the other side of the bowl, and turned to a low setting. When there are weak trade-winds, all that warm surface water tends to gather near the middle of the ocean, trapping the cooler water deep down in the ocean and thereby affecting weather patterns allover the globe. For some regions El Niño brings strong weather events like hurricanes and tsunamis. It can also mean drought in regions that would normally be wet. For most of us in California, and along the southern part of the U.S., it typically means rain. Lots of rain.
We know that Mother Nature doesn’t offer any guarantees, and El Niño is no exception. However, if this year’s pattern follows those of years past, we can expect a much wetter-than-normal winter. Thankfully, the California Department of Water Resources offers ways to prepare. For more information, and the real low-down on El Niño, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website (NOAA).
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