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Nov. 15, 2015

El Nino forecast

by James Sleigh, Online Sports Editor
Meteorologists and experts predict that the 2015-2016 El Niño will be one of the strongest ever recorded. Similar to the strongest storm system recorded during 1997-1998, which resulted in drought, flooding and coral reef die-off, this year’s El Niño could have devastating effects worldwide.

A typical El Niño event occurs when Pacific winds slow to halt, allowing warm water, which is normally trapped in the Western Pacific, to spread ward to South America. The warm waters generate more precipitation near North and South America, and a drought in the normally rainy areas of the Western Pacific.

The Oceanic Niño Index (ONI), which measures the surface temperature of the world’s oceans, classifies anything over 1.5 on the index as a strong El Niño season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) expects this year’s system to climb to 2.0, close to the 2.3 rating from the 1997-1998 season. Though no two storm systems are alike, this year’s El Niño is likely to have similarly high and low levels of precipitation as have occurred in El Niño ’s of the past.

So how and where will this year’s El Niño affect the climate and landscape?

The East coast
Before moving on to the areas that will likely be devastated by storms and rain, let’s focus on the local region. How many snow days are expected? Will this added precipitation be all snow?
The truth is, meteorologists just don’t know.

According to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC), Maryland will likely have slightly higher temperatures coupled with a higher chance of precipitation. In other words, that could either mean a lot of snow, or a lot of rain. It all depends on whether a cold front will come sweeping in, bringing a large snowfall with it. Realistically, expect days of rain, with a slim chance of a mega snowstorm thrown into the mix.

The West coast
California’s record drought and the Northwest’s devastating wildfires are not going to combine well with this year’s El Niño event. California and the southwestern United States are expected to have higher than average levels of precipitation, according to the CPC. The loose topsoil caused by this year’s record long drought will cause major flooding in many areas.

Elsewhere, the wildfires that ravaged Oregon and Washington this summer will be further fueled by hotter temperatures and low levels of precipitation.
El Nino's effects are widespread. Courtesy of Wikipedia
El Nino's effects are widespread.

Global effects
Though El Niño storms have landfall in and around the Americas, the storm systems often have a global impact. With the strength of the 2015-2016 El Niño, organizations and weather experts are bracing for what could be disastrous climatic impacts.

According to Oxfam International, an organization that fights worldwide poverty, this year’s projected drought in parts of Africa and southeast Asia will devastate agricultural communities. Dr. Helen Szoke, of Oxfam International says drought in countries like Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea will struggle when rainfall dries up. “Potentially millions of people will be affected by a lack of access to water and if food prices go up, the poor will miss out again,” she said.

The elevated temperatures are also slated to bleach even more coral in the world’s oceans, according to experts from NOAA. The high temperatures, already spurred on by climate change, will bleach up to 38% of the world’s coral by the end of 2015.

When you are in school this winter because of another disappointing rainy day, think this positive thought: at least you aren’t in baking in a drought or in the midst of a mudslide. It could be a lot worse.

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