It's still raining. Though the rains in Kenya have admittedly eased, we still have odd nights of dashing around with buckets to place strategically under leaky roof patches. I have also read a bit about scientists predicting a very hot summer in Europe this year. Well they said that last year didn't they, but with all this heavy rain we've had I wondered, what exactly is El Niño? What does it mean?
I decided to do a bit of research and to be honest got more than a little confused by a lot of highly technical information concerning jet streams, hurricanes, wind directions, ocean currents and fish. However, after wading through various websites, here's what I grasped:
What is El Niño?
The El Niño phenomenon is a warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean occurring every few years, which disrupts the weather pattern of the region and beyond. Higher sea surface temperatures pump out heat into the atmosphere causing abnormal weather patterns on each side of the Pacific and beyond. Scientists are still studying the effects of El Niño, which happen irregularly at intervals of between two and seven years. The last major El Niño on this scale took place in 1998, before that there was a big one in 1983. Over the past forty years there have been nine El Niños.
El Niño – Literal translation, from Spanish means ‘the boy’ or ‘Christ child’.
The change in sea temperature and odd weather effects were first noticed by Latin American anchovy fishermen in the 19th Century who named it after the Christ Child because it normally happened around Christmas time. They realised that when the sea temperature rose, the fish were harder to catch and it also rained a lot, so fishermen would take a break to spend more time with their families.
So what effect does El Niño have on the weather?
The effects are different all around the world. Some areas are drier or experience drought during an El Niño year, while others have more rain. India, Northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines are drier while East Africa and the eastern Pacific has enjoyed more rainfall.
On a global scale, there have been fewer droughts this year thanks to El Niño. In an El Niño year there tend to be more Eastern Pacific hurricanes and fewer Atlantic hurricanes. The strongest El Niño effects are felt from September to February. This 2010 El Niño is predicted to fade out during June.
So then what then is La Niña?
Literally, La Niña means ‘little girl’. The La Niña weather effects are almost the exact opposite to those of El Niño. During La Niña surface water temperatures in the Pacific cool. For instance, during La Niña, India experiences more rainfall and Kenya, much less.
What has all this got to do with global warming? Are the two linked?
Some scientists say that cooler water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, or rather 'La Niña' conditions since 1998, have limited the effects of global warming/climate change over the past decade. Since 2010 is an El Niño year, add this to a global temperature rise of 0.7C or ‘global warming’ (and in spite of the very cold winter experienced in Europe) scientists predict that worldwide, this could be the hottest year on record ever!