El Nino starting to brew

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

El Nino, the warming of ocean waters in the equatorial Pacific, is starting to, well … warm up.  NOAA made the recent announcement which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.  Long-range computer models were indicating the potential return of El Nino later this year.

Now, observations are starting to show that warm up starting to occur.  The image below is a cross section of the Pacific Ocean for mid-February and mid-April.  It shows a pool of warmer-than-normal water (shown in red) starting to migrate across the deep waters of the central Pacific to the surface just off the coast of South America.

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Above-normal sea surface temperatures are not common off the South America coast.  In this region near the equator, winds blow from west to east (think about tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic moving west to east towards us in the Atlantic).  The easterly winds pile up sun-warmed surface waters in the western Pacific towards Indonesia.  If those winds ease up or reverse direction, the warm pool of water begins a slow slosh back towards South America.

NOAA officially declares El Nino underway when the monthly average temperature in the eastern Pacific is 0.5° Celsius or more above average.

El Nino has been linked to global weather pattern changes.  One of the most notable impacts to the eastern U.S. is a quieter Atlantic hurricane season.

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