Albion Monitor /News

Harshest Winter in Century Feared From El Niño

Monitor Wire Services

and related article in this topic
Scientists view with growing alarm the building weather patterns in the Pacific Ocean, leading them to believe that we could experience the most destructive winter of the last 100 years.

"At this point in time, we see signals of the strongest El Niño in a century," Ants Leetmaa, director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmpospheric Administration (NOAA), said at a news conference October 20. The worst storms are predicted for December and January , he said.

NOAA has now added that it will probably not only be a severe winter, but an unusually long one. According to a Special Climate Summary released last week, El Niño will keep the ocean sufficiently warm to impact global weather patterns into spring. "This event is still going strong and will likely continue on this track into early 1998," said Leetmaa.

A further report due to be issued later this month will also report a dramatic decrease in Atlantic Ocean tropical storms and hurricanes as well as expected increases of tropical cyclones in the North Pacific.

Perhaps double usual precipitation for California
Director of the Office of Global Programs at NOAA, J. Michael Hall, said in an interview that certain regions of the world are already showing effects of this weather pattern, which brews over the vast area of the central Pacific.

Indonesia has had "far below average" rainfall the past several months, he said.

The northeast section of South America that fronts on the Atlantic Ocean -- Brazil, in particular -- is as dry as is expected during an El Niño episode. However, the hard rains that usually fall during this weather pattern over parts of South America haven't arrived yet "but probably will," he said.

The southern part of Africa normally becomes very dry during an El Niño and that, too, "has not yet developed to the extent that it probably will."

The Clinton administration has been focusing attention the past few months on the El Niño effects because the 1982-1983 occurance -- the most widespread and damaging occurrence so far in this century -- is estimated to have killed more than 150 persons and caused more than $2 billion in damages. Among the damage that year was a rare tornado that touched down in downtown Los Angeles and ripped the roof off the L.A. Convention Center.

Vice President Al Gore led a summit of federal, state and local emergency preparedness agencies earlier in October to plan responses in case of widespread floods, mud slides and other damage.

"California, Texas, Florida and other states throughout the south are likely to see significant precipitation in the next several months," added Leetmaa. "Based on historical data during past El Niño events, some areas may see as much as 150 to 200 percent of normal. While we tend to view the increased precipitation as a threat, in some instances there are benefits such as decreasing the chance for wintertime drought in the Southwest and southern Plains and reducing the wildfire danger in Florida."

What's happening now is far more intense than anything scientists have seen
In the past 15 years of intense investigation, scientists have found that the waters of the western Pacific warm up mere than normal every two to seven years. The warming results from the interaction between the surface layers of the waters of the ocean and the atmosphere in the tropical part of the Pacific. This pattern might then change to a normal distribution of temperature throughout the Pacific or to a pattern called La Niña, which is marked by unusually cold temperatures in the equatorial part of the Pacific.

The El Niño occurances vary in how widespread an area they affect and the intensity of the destruction they bring.

Observations from data buoys and satellites indicate that waters in the eastern Pacific have averaged at least 82 degrees Fahrenheit since April 1997, approximately 8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The warm water covered more than 9.5 million square miles during September.

What's happening in the Pacific now is far more intense and much earlier in the year than anything scientists have seen. The waters in some places of Southern California and Mexico are now about 12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

"We're at record levels," said Ron Lynn, an oceanographer with the National Marine Fisheries Service in La Jolla, which is charged with gathering some El Niño data. "I haven't seen anomalies this big."

Scientists are not sure whether the rise in temperature around the world in this century is connected with El Niño. This average increase in the globe's temperature is the result of a greenhouse effect, which in part has been caused by industrialization. The burning of coal and oil -- and to a lesser extent natural gas and wood -- releases carbon dioxide which prevents heat from Earth from escaping into outer space.

If there is a connection, scientists say it probably lies in the relationships among increased temperature creating more storms which have an affect on the equatorial waters of the Pacific.

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Albion Monitor November 10, 1997 (

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