Weather: What we don't know about El Nino

Almost every piece of bad weather anywhere in the world this year is going to be blamed on El Nino. Yet despite the intense study that has been given to the phenomenon, nobody really has much idea what the effect will be, if any, in the northern hemisphere.

There are many things that I do not understand about the weather, but the current El Nino phenomenon illustrates the single most perplexing of them. Why is it that nobody seems to have any idea what effect El Nino is going to have on Europe? No one is even sure whether the recent Spanish storms, or the Polish floods earlier this year, have any connection with the huge climatic changes in the Pacific.

The problem seems to be that our understanding of the mechanisms of weather change is greatest when it comes to very fast and very slow processes. By plotting the movement of weather fronts and clouds, we can predict changes in the weather with great accuracy up to a day or two ahead. Or by studying the long-term changes in the earth's orbit round the sun, we can predict, to within 10,000 years or so, when there is likely to be another ice age. The motions of ocean currents, however, seem to fall awkwardly between these extremes.

El Nino is the name given to the strange behaviour of the Pacific that occurs every few years. The western Pacific has some of the warmest ocean water in the world, while the eastern Pacific is much cooler. Every few years, however, for reasons that are not understood, the westward- blowing trade winds drop and allow a slow drift of warm water eastwards across the Pacific. These warm-water drifts interfere with the normal welling-up of cold water, and influence air temperatures, and therefore wind and rain, over a wide area. Also, since it is the cold water that carries the most important nutrients for certain types of fish, the result is always devastation among certain species of fish in South America.

For an analogy, you might imagine yourself sitting in a cooling bath. After removing your feet from the danger area, you turn on the hot tap. Warm currents begin to drift through the water, taking the chill off certain areas, but in a pattern that never seems to be quite the same as the time before.

That seems to be what El Nino does to the world's weather. A vast mass of warm water in the Pacific must have the capacity to alter weather patterns world-wide. The whole system of cooling and warming, and winds and rain, can, the chaos theoreticians tell us, be thrown into unpredictability by one flap of a butterfly's wing. So what can turning a gigantic warm tap on do to it?

Recently, a research team in Israel discovered what was described as a striking correlation between El Nino and rainfall in central Israel. The country's record rainfall coincided with the particularly severe El Nino of 1991-92, while there were no El Ninos recorded during the Israeli droughts of the Thirties. Dr Dan Yakir of the Weizmann Institute has even suggested that the seven- year famine in the time of the Pharoahs reported in Genesis may have been caused by an absence of El Nino.

Yet, as with the sudden influx of warm water into the bath, we can never be sure where the next warm area will be. When it comes to predictions, El Nino remains El Great Un-Ninown.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

    Campaign Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

    Software Engineer - C++

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

    Software Team Leader - C++

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software Tea...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor