El Niño

It is hard to imagine that events happening thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean can directly affect us here, but an El Niño weather pattern may be forming there that will do just that.

On my National Geographic map of the world, the vast South Pacific Ocean is so very far away from Idaho. It doesn’t seem possible that events in that great distant ocean could be anything more than just an interesting side note for the rest of the world. However, conditions are building there right now that may sway weather events for much of the globe.

El Niño, meaning the Christ child in Spanish, causes droughts and torrential rains, suppresses hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic Ocean yet generates cyclones in the east Pacific, and it may be forming right now, and it has its origins in the South Pacific Ocean.

In essence, El Niño is a warming of the Pacific surface waters. Trade winds normally push this warmer water from the east to the west, leaving cold water along the west coast of South America. The warmer water ends up near Indonesia. At some point, too much warm water piles up, literally two feet higher than the east side of the ocean, causing the trade winds to reverse. The warm water begins moving eastward. If it doesn’t make it past the mid-Pacific, there won’t be an El Niño. But if it reaches the coast of South America, weather patterns across the globe will change in a big way.

But El Niño is really a wild card and its effects are only broadly predictable because the interactions are so complex. There are variations in how one forms, how strong it is and how long it lasts, all based on complex relationships between ocean temperatures, climate and weather that scientists barely understand. 

Although fishermen have been aware of the periodic warming seas for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until about 25 years ago that scientists made the connection between the warming ocean and the subsequent atmospheric events.

Climatologists now use a wide array of instruments in an equatorial area dead center between Indonesia and South America, called the Niño 3.4 Region, to measure ocean temperatures and determine if an El Niño is forming. When prolonged measurements indicate an average temperature rise in this region of at least 0.5°C (0.9°F) there is potential for an El Niño to form. A major event may see a rise in ocean temperatures of 3-4°C or more.

El Niño is a recurring phenomenon, occurring about every 2-7 years, although episodes can happen back to back or be separated by up to ten years. Recent significant El Niño events occurred in 1972–73, 1982–83, 1987-88, 1997–98 and 2009–2010.  The El Niño of 1997-1998 was one of the strongest ever, and is blamed for killing an estimated 24,000 people and causing $33 billion in damages.

El Niño is not a new phenomenon related to climate change. This little boy has been creating mischief for a long time. There is strong evidence that conditions created by El Niño have been responsible for lost civilizations and widespread famines, and even played a role in creating the French Revolution.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Best of Nature by Terry R. Thomas

The Best of Nature

by Terry R. Thomas

Giveaway ends June 24, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho