Looking at El

Examinations of climate, as well as of weather, were a common feature of this decade. Meteorologists began looking for connections between atmospheric and oceanographic phenomena that might seem unrelated at first glance. One meteorological event that drew increased interest was known as El Niño.

El Niño is the term used to describe the change in the oceanic current along the coasts of Ecuador and Peru from cold to warm. Translated "the Christ Child," El Niño typically appears around Christmas (hence the name) and lasts for several months. Some years, the water becomes espe cially warm and remains warm into the early summer, the fishing industry collapses because the fish move to colder waters, and rains become abnormally heavy. It is for this extended change in ocean currents and the subsequent weather patterns that atmospheric scientists now reserve the term El Niño. During particularly severe El Niño events, such as the one that took place in 1982-83, the weather pattern becomes radically different all around the world. The illustration below depicts ocean temperature and wind pattern changes accompanying El Niño.

In the early 20th century, few, if any, meteorologists outside South America had been trying to determine what happened during an El Niño event. During the 1920s, the British meteorologist Sir Gilbert Walker had gone to India to examine weather records related to the onset of the Indian monsoons. He was startled to find that when the barometric pressure readings were highest on the western side of the Pacific Ocean, they were lowest on the eastern side, and vice versa. Walker named this seesaw

ASIA

EL NINO

Slackened or reversed trade winds

NORTH AMERICA

AUSTRALIA

.Warm water Cold water

.Warm water Cold water

West

Pacific Ocean

East

SOUTH AMERICA

ASIA

^ NORTH Normal trade ^J) AMERICA winds .

AUSTRALIA

© Infobase Publishing

^ NORTH Normal trade ^J) AMERICA winds .

AUSTRALIA

SOUTH AMERICA

During El Niño years, the atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns change from their normal configurations and carry unusual weather to people around the world.

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