El Nino Forms in Pacific Ocean, CNN, 09/13/06
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- El Nino, an extreme warming of equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean that wreaks havoc with world weather conditions, has formed and will last into 2007, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday.
El Nino has already helped make the Atlantic hurricane season milder than expected, said a NOAA forecaster Wednesday.
"The weak El Nino is helping to explain why the hurricane season is less than we expected. El Ninos tend to suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic," said Gerry Bell, a hurricane forecaster for NOAA.
The NOAA's Climate Prediction Center said the El Nino probably will spur warmer-than-average temperatures this winter over western and central Canada and the western and northern United States.
It said El Nino also will cause wetter-than-average conditions in the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida, and spark dry conditions in the Ohio valley, the Pacific Northwest and most U.S. islands in the tropical Pacific.
In Asia and South America, the last severe El Nino killed hundreds of people and caused billions of dollars in damage as crops shriveled across the Asia-Pacific basin. This El Nino has caused drier-than-average conditions across Indonesia, Malaysia and most of the Philippines.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country with over 200 million people, while nearly 90 million live in the Philippines. Both are major importers of U.S. grains.
The CPC Web site said surface temperatures were substantially warmer than normal by early September in the Pacific. Scientists detect formation of El Ninos by monitoring sea surface temperatures with a system of buoys.
"Currently, weak El Nino conditions exist, but there is a potential for this event to strengthen into a moderate event by winter," Vernon Kousky, the chief El Nino expert at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said in a statement.
"The latest ... predictions indicate El Nino conditions for the remainder of 2006 and into the northern hemisphere spring [of] 2007," the CPC Web site explained.
El Nino, which means "little boy" in Spanish, hits once every three years or so. Anchovy fishermen in South America noticed the phenomenon in the 19th century and named it for the Christ child since it appeared around Christmas, and it normally peaks late in the year.
El Nino hinders hurricanes
One immediate impact of the El Nino is during the current Atlantic hurricane season, which follows on the heels of the record 28 storms and 15 hurricanes that struck in 2005.
Last year's storms included Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. But this El Nino apparently has helped hinder storm formation in 2006. So far, there have only been seven tropical storms and two hurricanes halfway through the hurricane season, which begins June 1 and ends November 30.
Scientists said El Nino disrupts storm formation because it allows wind shear to rip apart thunderstorms in the center of the hurricanes, reducing power and intensity as a result.
U.S. Northeast in for milder winter
An El Nino also usually leads to milder winter weather in the U.S. Northeast, the top heating oil market in the world.
Bell said scientists will have a better idea in the fall how long this El Nino will last. "There's no way to say at this time how strong it is going to be. It's too early," he said.
The last severe El Nino struck in 1997-1998. The weather phenomenon caused searing drought in Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines while causing rampant flooding in Ecuador and Chile, the world's top producer of copper.
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