The Return of El Nino?

The federal Climate Prediction Center, operated by NOAA, reported this week that current conditions in the Pacific would seem to foreshadow a return to El Nino conditions, possibly within the next few weeks.

2006 El Nino conditions, as observed by the Jason satellite. Photo: NASA
2006 El Nino conditions, as observed by the Jason satellite. Photo: NASA

The ocean conditions formally known as ENSO, or the El Nino/Southern Oscillation, arise when normal upwelling of deep, cold water abates, causing warmer surface temperatures (SST).

El Nino and its opposite, La Nina, have far-reaching implications on weather patterns. Here on the West Coast, it usually means wetter winters in southern California and drier ones in the Pacific Northwest.  Because northern and central California lie in between, things there can go either way.

El Nino can also have a significant impact on fisheries, as much of the food chain is interrupted when upwelling slows.

Here’s a good overview of El Nino “mechanics” from UC Berkeley.

The Return of El Nino? 5 June,2009Craig Miller

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Craig Miller

Craig is KQED's science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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