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
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
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

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

    £14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an experie...

    Recruitment Genius: Canteen Manager Required

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's Frozen...

    Recruitment Genius: Canteen Assistants Required

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's Frozen...

    Recruitment Genius: Facilities & Operational Administrator

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum