Just The Facts

El Niño Across the Pacific Ocean

Where has the Pacific-based weather phenomenon hit hardest in 2015?

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Takeaways


  • There have been several hurricanes on the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Central America in 2015
  • The UN FAO estimates drought has cost Central America a majority of its maize and bean output in 2015
  • The 1997-1998 El Niño cost more than $20 billion in crop damage in Southeast Asia
  • El Niño’s other strongest effect occurs where the Indian Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean.

1. There have been a record number of major hurricanes on the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Central America in 2015. Hurricane Patricia, which struck Mexico in October, broke the record for the strongest hurricane in the Western Hemisphere.

2. One common El Niño effect is “above-normal hurricane activity” in the eastern Pacific Ocean. In such periods, there are generally more named storms and hurricanes, sometimes including five or more major hurricanes in a year.

3. During normal, non-El Niño conditions, ocean temperatures off the South American equatorial coastline remain favorably low for fishable marine life and high-pressure (descending air) zones prevent excessive rainfall or storms.

4. During El Niño, by contrast, areas such as Peru and Chile may see excessive rain and flooding. Central America or northeast Brazil, on the other hand, get insufficient rain.

5. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates drought has cost Central America a majority of its maize and bean output in 2015. Hundreds of thousands of families in Central American countries have needed food aid.

6. Countries in South America and the Caribbean have also been affected and could continue to experience disasters in the early months of 2016.

7. El Niño’s other strongest effect occurs where the Indian Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean between Southeast Asia and Oceania – the region including Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, various Pacific Island nations and part of Indonesia.

8. During the effect, Oceania loses the rainfall that would normally sustain the region. 2015 is no exception. Northern Australia and the former Australian/German colony of Papua New Guinea have experienced life-threatening dry conditions.

9. When the El Niño effect moves across the Pacific from Oceania toward Latin America, it can also cause extreme drought further west, in Southeast Asia and India. The 1997-1998 El Niño cost more than $20 billion in crop damage in Southeast Asia. In 2015, it has exacerbated Indonesian forest fires.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, NOAA, various news media and Dr. Axel Timmermann of the University of Hawaii

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