El Nino is an anomalous, yet periodic, warming of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Every 2 – 7 years this patch of tropical ocean warms for 6 – 18 months with far-reaching consequences. (The subsequent cooling phase is known as La Nina.) This warming of equatorial Pacific water influences the atmospheric pattern from the western Pacific Ocean including Australia and Indonesia to North and South America, the Atlantic Ocean, and even parts of Europe and Africa. A British publication recently claimed that scientists are now certain that El Nino “will have catastrophic knock-on effects around the world including England.”

El Niño means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. El Niño was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. The name was chosen based on the time of year (around December) during which these warm waters events tended to occur.

Today the term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific. Technically termed “El Nino Southern Oscillation” (ENSO), this warm body of water appears every 5 – 10 years with spectacular results. El Ninos benefit for some industries and setback others. For instance, ski resorts thrive while many communities suffer mudslides and flooding. For the West Coast and across the South, an El Nino most likely means heavy precipitation and snowfall. The East Coast and Northern tiers generally experience slightly warmer temperatures.

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