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March 12, 2014

In Our Opinion: Next winter, El Nino may warm things up

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The Daily Star

---- — In this seemingly unending winter, it’s easy to remember this famous quote often erroneously attributed to humorist Mark Twain:

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

But a little boy just might be doing something about it. The National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration issued an official El Nino watch last week.

El Nino, Spanish for “little boy,” is a climate-affecting event that got its name when it was noticed in the ocean off Peru and Ecuador around Christmas time in 1892, and was thus named after the Christ child. Evidence exists that it has been occurring off and on for about 10,000 years.

El Nino is a huge pool of warm seawater of almost unimaginable power — scientists say a typical one contains more energy than has been produced by the burning of all fossil fuels in the United States since 2000 — that builds in the western Pacific Ocean over several months. It affects weather all over the world.

The good news for our area in 2015 is that El Ninos usually translate into milder winters for those in the northern part of the United States. It also augurs well for drought-stricken California, which will have a 60 percent chance of double its average rainfall. Hurricanes are also usually less abundant in the Atlantic Ocean during El Nino years.

But sometimes, such as in 2012, an El Nino can get going, then fizzle, puzzling scientists who try to predict these things.  In North America, there is usually about a 60 percent probability of an El Nino having the predicted effect, according to an article in NOVA.

But full-fledged El Ninos have a dark side, too.  

Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the Associated Press that he believes a major El Nino is in the offing, beginning in December.

“This could be a substantial event and I think we’re due,” Trenberth said. “And I think it could have major consequences.”

Those consequences could include lack of rain in Australia, South Africa and parts of South America. Peru, on the other hand, could get too much rain and poorer fishing, according to the AP, which quoted a study by a Texas A&M professor estimating that the El Nino of 1997-98 cost about $3 billion in agricultural damage. It also caused the death of an estimated 16 percent of the planet’s reef systems.

So, should our next winter be a bit more mild, we might feel a little sorry for those who might have it rough. But little boys often have a mind of their own, and El Nino will likely be no exception.