El Nino, rose to stardom after the 1997-1998 El Nino brought the Peruvian fishing industry (world’s largest) to a stand still. By then, the general public had barely heard of this phenomena and the understanding of its mechanism was still in its infancy.
The austral summer of 1997-1998 was marked by a record breaking El Nino event which brought the second warmest winter and seventh wettest to the USA. This lead to flooding in California, ice storms in the northeast and tornadoes in Florida.
On the other side of the Pacific, this event was classified as a mild one in terms of its effects on Australia. However, most of southern QLD, eastern NSW, VIC and TAS saw below average rainfall over the 12 month period from April 1997 to March 1998.
Several years later, we had two back-to-back La Nina events which brought the 2010-2011 QLD floods and the 2011 Victorian floods. Back then, many people were still getting familiar with El Nino when a new phenomena impacted our home soil.
Finally, 2014 brought the latest installment of the saga, La Nada. While the terms El Nino and La Nina are the Spanish literal translation of the boy and the girl, La Nada means the “the nothing”. After months of forecasting an El Nino event for 2014-2015, the event failed to materialize. Or did it?
El Nino as with La Nina, are extremes of the same climate driver called El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This phenomena follows the Australian financial year: developing in the late winter, maturing during summer and decaying by autumn.
ENSO has an oceanic component as well as an atmospheric component and occurs primarily in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. However, its consequences can be felt all over the world through teleconnections in the atmosphere.
Last year, the equatorial Pacific was primed for an El Nino event, however, the atmosphere did not follow suit. But effects typical of an El Nino were, and continue to be felt.
In Australia, rainfall deficits over the past nine months have been observed over southern SA, western VIC, most of TAS, northern NSW and both southern and tropical QLD. In the USA, the Big Freeze has been wreacking havoc along the northeastern states while the Hurricane season late last year followed the characteristics of an El Nino event.
The last significant El Nino happened in 2009-2010, and back then very warm temperatures in the northern hemisphere led to the Vancouver Olympics being the mildest on record. Despite record breaking snow on November 2009, the Olympics were almost a washout. Last night in British Columbia, a warm storm brought the freezing level to above 2000 metres turning fresh powder into slush and water.
Yes, we might not have had a fully fledged El Nino this year but certainly its impacts have been felt across both sides of the Pacific Ocean so far in the past nine months. Although there needs to be more research into the relationship between the strength of an El Nino and its impacts; it if quacks like a duck and walks like a duck … it might be a duck after all.