What is El Niño and La Niña

2016-08-17 06:00

EL Niño has been blamed for the current drought in South Africa, but what exactly is El Niño. According to the SA Weather Bureau El Niño is the warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean which influences atmospheric circulation, and consequently rainfall and temperature in specific areas around the world.

El Niño is translated from Spanish as the “boy child”. Peruvian anchovy fishermen traditionally used the term - a reference to the Christ child - to describe the appearance of a warm ocean current off the South American coast around Christmas.

Over the years the term El Niño has come to be reserved for the sequence of changes in the circulation across the Pacific Ocean and Indonesian archipelago when warming is particularly strong.

Approximately 14 El Niño events affected the world between 1950 and 2003. Among them was the 1997/1998 event, by many measures the strongest thus far this century, although South Africa escaped the impact of it to some extent.

La Niña, Spanish for “the girl”, is the opposite of El Niño. “La Niña is the cooling of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean which influences atmospheric circulation, and consequently rainfall and temperature in specific areas around the world. SSTs in the equatorial Pacific become cooler than normal, giving rise to the term cold event.”

What about Enso?

There is a third term to take into account: “The changes in the Pacific Ocean are represented by the term El Niño an/or La Niña, while changes in the atmosphere are known as the Southern Oscillation. Because these two cannot be separated, the term Eenso is often used. Enso refers to both El Niño and La Niña.’

Here’s hoping La Niña is about to make her appearance not only in Umvoti, but throughout the country.

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