Beware 'The Kid': El Niño will pound U.S., strain global humanitarian system

This satellite image shows sea surface temperatures in October 2015. Orange-red colors are above normal temperatures and are indicative of El Niño.

Story highlights

  • Batten down the hatches -- a storm's on the way
  • El Niño involves warm water in the eastern Pacific
  • HRW predicts difficult humanitarian year in 2016 because of El Nino

(CNN)Batten down the hatches and beware the kid: Experts say the weather phenomenon known as El Niño is expected to wreak havoc in the United States and put the world's humanitarian assistance system under unprecedented strain.

El Niño, which can be translated as "The Kid" or "The Boy," has already created havoc around the world, NASA said. The weather phenomenon occurs in the tropical Pacific Ocean every seven years or so. When the trade winds, which normally blow from east to west, weaken, sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central tropical Pacific rise -- with an array of meteorological results.

'Warm weather normally piled up around Australia ... '

    According to NASA, El Niño 2015 has caused the "warm water layer that is normally piled up around Australia and Indonesia to thin dramatically, while in the eastern tropical Pacific, the normally cool surface waters are blanketed with a thick layer of warm water."
    "This massive redistribution of heat causes ocean temperatures to rise from the central Pacific to the Americas," NASA said. "It has sapped Southeast Asia's rain in the process, reducing rainfall over Indonesia and contributing to the growth of massive wildfires that have blanketed the region in choking smoke."