El Nio's Alter Ego
"Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." ?Mark Twain
El Nio has revolutionized conversations about the weather. No longer banal small talk, the weather has become the subject of high drama and preternatural powers. Everyone is talking about El Nio, and each story seems more odd and disastrous than the next:
- Peru?the country that gave El Nio its name?will be hit with record floods and snow this winter.
- Papua New Guinea is suffering the worst drought in fifty years and a million people may face starvation.
- Japan may have to host a snowless Winter Olympics in February.
- Tropical fish have appeared in the normally frigid waters off Oregon.
- The famous beaches of Rio, Brazil, Ipanema and Copacabana, have shrunk as much as 160 feet in some places.
- An unnatural surplus of squid have overrun the waters of California.
- Drought in Colombia is threatening the coca crop, used to produce cocaine; El Nio may be the most effective deterrent to the drug cartels.
- In Guyana, a magistrate has blamed El Nio for the recent surge in domestic violence.
- Toxic algae is expected to contaminate Australia's rivers and drinking water.
- In the past, El Nio has been linked to cyclones, hurricanes, dust storms, flooding, drought, famine, brush fires, infestations of fleas, rodents, and rattlesnakes, and outbreaks of encephalitis, malaria, and cholera, among other calamaties.
This nefarious atmospheric scourge will no doubt be made to take the blame for stock market plunges, cellulite, and poor SAT scores. It is just a matter of time before criminal courts are presented with the "El Nio Defense."
Equal Time for La Nia
The obsession with El Nio has overshadowed its lesser known counterpart, La Nia, which is very capable of wreaking havoc of its own. La Nia creates nearly opposite conditions from El Nio: instead of warm temperatures in the Pacific, the water turns unusually cold and the atmospheric pressure anomalies are the reverse of El Nio. Where El Nio might create a hot and dry spell, La Nia is likely to cause a cool and wet climate. There has been only one significant La Nia in the past 20 years (1988) compared to a slew of hellish El Nios1, a fact that has been no help in boosting La Nia's low profile. Although El Nio was named more than a century ago in 18952, the existence of La Nia was only acknowledged in the past few years. It has also been saddled with such uninspiring names as "anti-El Nio," and "El Viejo" (old man), but now "La Nia" is definitely the preferred term. Since a La Nia episode often follows El Nio, it is sure to get more press next year once we feel its cold blast and watch its aberrant manipulation of nature.
1. El Nio and La Nia years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association:
El Nio: 1877, 1880, 1884, 1891, 1896, 1899, 1902, 1904, 1911, 1913, 1918, 1923, 1925, 1930, 1932, 1939, 1951, 1953, 1965, 1969, 1972, 1976, 1982 (the most severe thus far), and 1986
La Nia: 1886, 1889, 1892, 1903, 1906, 1908, 1916, 1920, 1924, 1928, 1931, 1938, 1942, 1949, 1954, 1964, 1970, 1973, 1975, and 1988 (the most severe thus far).
2. El Nio translates as "the little boy" in Spanish, meaning the Christ Child, and it received its name from Peruvian and Ecuadorian fishermen who detected a warm ocean current around Christmas that caused torrential rains and major disruptions in fishing. Scientists usually refer to it as ENSO (El Nio-Southern Oscillation). The "SO" refers to the oscillation of air pressure in the South Pacific. La Nia means "the little girl."