Scientists: Brace for a severe El Nino winter
Rain, storms in California, western South America
From Correspondent Dick Wilson
(CNN) -- Translated from Spanish, the phrase El Nino -- the
name given to a weather phenomenon now occurring in the
Pacific Ocean -- means "the little one" or, since it occurs
around Christmastime, "the Christ child."
But the damage it can cause is far from little.
During an earlier episode in August 1983, high winds and
heavy rains in the Arizona desert flooded homes, turned
streets into streams and toppled power lines. Storms that
winter destroyed 33 oceanfront homes in California.
Already this year, record snowfall in the Peruvian Andes
forced the government to declare a national emergency in
parts of the country.
And scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at
the University of California at San Diego warned Wednesday
that precipitation patterns could be severely disrupted this
winter in many parts of the United States.
New predictions from both government and private scientists
say the latest El Nino could be severe one.
Scientists say El Nino is a natural weather cycle that
disrupts ocean and atmospheric temperatures in the tropical
Pacific. Ocean water temperatures have already risen five to
10 degrees in some areas, prompting concerns about marine
The effects of this disruption on weather around the globe
can be devastating.
"Every piece of evidence we get as time goes along shows us
El Nino (is) continuing to evolve, continuing to be a very
powerful, very awesome event," says the institute's Nick
Green. "It's like watching Mount St. Helens erupt in slow
El Nino normally occurs every three to five years and can
last up to 12 months.
Officials are forecasting that the southwestern and eastern
United States could see as much as three times normal
rainfall. Violent storms could pummel the California
coastline. Residents in the northwestern states could suffer
from lower than normal rainfall and possibly droughts.
Meanwhile, people living in the Southern Hemisphere near the
Pacific are being warned to get ready for a wet and possibly
dangerous holiday season near the end of the year.
The last bout with El Nino, in 1993 and 1994, was not a
severe one. But those with longer memories may recall the
devastation during 1983, which led to global damage estimated
at $25 billion.