Just what do we mean by worst? Sometimes everything is just subjective. Consider the children of Britain for example; this Halloween they will face 70° F temperatures as they go trick or treating rather than the usual 50° F or less. This is just after the first snowfall of the season occurred in Northern Scotland. It sounds downright pleasant to me!
Of course there is a downside in that this heat wave is also drawing up lots of moisture from the European continent and the UK is looking at heavy rains and flooding on either side of Halloween. But it’s also likely that these high temperatures will persist through most of November, and as the old expression goes, you don’t have to shovel rain.
About a month ago a Texas friend of mine was faced with a large storm resulting in one foot of water on her main floor. They were just getting dried out, and the mold was almost under control, when suddenly a massive storm made landfall in Mexico and headed straight up through Texas. Weather predictions were for substantial amounts of rain, not measured in inches, but in feet. For her area this threat was predicted as 400 millimeters or 1½ feet of rain. Luckily the bulk of the storm bypassed Austin, Texas.
The storm carried on up the central North American continent before finally exhausting itself in the Hamilton/Toronto area of Ontario by dumping 40 mm of rain or about 1½ inches, before fading off into northern Quebec, Canada.
Meanwhile my California friends are saying “Please come west! We need the water!” What they don’t consider however is that a massive storm like that would cause mudslides, flooding, and extensive damage, without making a significant impact on their nearly-empty aquifers which have reached an all-time low. They would be much better off with a long and protracted low-volume rain than a massive storm.
What is El Niño?
An El Niño System is declared officially when warm western Pacific waters start to pool near the northwest coast of South America and the trade winds which normally move from west to east start to reverse, which acts as an amplifier looping around and around and increasing the effect as more and more moisture is tossed into the atmosphere.
This added energy stirs up even more storm activity which can affect weather patterns all over the world as large amounts of water are delivered to unusual places, while other areas accustomed to a certain amount of water get less than usual. These weather systems are never the same though. We don’t understand enough about them to predict accurately.
The 1997/98 version really brought El Niño to the public’s attention. It was a once-in-a-century event. The 1982/83 El Niño is said to have caused more than $10,000,000,000 in damage around the world. In 2014 it looked like we were shaping up for another big event, but it completely fizzled and disappeared.
So will this be the worst El Niño in history? No, and it probably won’t even be as bad as the 1997/98 event. It’s even possible that it might fade before the Northern Hemisphere’s winter is over.
What we do know is that the coastal waters around South America are very warm because less of the nutrient rich cold waters from beneath are welling up to the surface. For marine life this means a lot less food is available. The descendants of the Peruvian fishermen that named El Niño back in the 1600s are probably going to have far less fish to catch as marine life changes their migration patterns to follow the available food.
If some fish fail to alter their chosen habitat, at the very least they will be much smaller than usual, and at worst there could be a significant population decrease. It’s certainly not the end of the world. El Niño (and its cousin, La Niña) have been occurring for millions of years, as we know from the ice core records from Greenland and Antarctica. It may be inconvenient for we humans but on the whole our planet seems to cope with it reasonably well.
Some people will get more water than usual and it will probably cause some damage, perhaps even costing some lives. Some places that are desperately short of water might get a little more and that will make life easier (this year) for their citizens. Those who live in areas that are prone to substantial snowfalls may see less this year, and a few people who might have had heart attacks moving all that snow will live longer.
If these are the sorts of things that make you think, perhaps it’s time once again to reflect on how much NASA’s budget has been reduced. If we kept on the technological pace we established in the 1950s and 60s, we would have a substantial city on the Moon, a growing colony on Mars, and orbiting space settlements delivering solar-powered electricity to every country on Earth for 3¢ per kilowatt hour.
But most importantly, we would probably have a really good handle on how to manipulate the weather by now. But for some reason $9 per person per year (2009) was deemed to be too much for all the amazing benefits we acquired. Strangely enough people support the $14,000,000 per hour we spend 24/7/365 on the military though… Go figure!
In the meantime, go outside and enjoy the unexpectedly pleasant temperatures we’re experiencing right now. El Niño may fool us and vanish like it did last year or it might build up steam and become even more substantial. Today the weather is nice, and I’m going outside.