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.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
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

    Data Warehouse Developer / Analyst (SQL, SSIS, stored procedures)

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Year 6 Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + D.O.E - Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone:...

    March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

    This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week