El Niño: facts and fictions

    1. True or False: El Niño is a warm water current that flows northward from the South Pacific to California.

    False. El Niño can cause the water along the west coast to be unusually warm, but this does not happen by way of a current flowing northward from the South Pacific.

    2. True or False: The unusually warm water of the coast of California coast during spring-summer 1997 was due to El Niño.

    False. This warm water off the California coast developed many months before the 1997-98 El Niño began, and was primarily due to processes other than El Niño

    3. True or False: El Niño really is responsible for lots of unusual events.

    True. The environmental changes caused by El Niño and La Niña are very big, second only to seasonal changes. So, just as seasons have big impacts, so do El Niños.

    4. True or False: El Niño is a winter storm that causes lots of damage in the U.S.

    False. El Niño is not an individual storm, or even a set of storms, that hits the U.S. However, El Niño can effect the jet stream and storms over the U.S.

    5. True or False: El Niños bring heavy winter rain and snow fall throughout the U.S.

    False. El Niños tend to cause unusually heavy precipitation in the southern 48 states and dry conditions in the northern 48. Southern California tends to be wetter than normal, while northern California is often drier than normal. Monterey and San Francisco are often near the borderline between the drier north and the wetter south, so they both may be wetter or drier during El Niños

    6. True or False: El Niños occur in the U.S.

    False. El Niños occur in the tropical Pacific region, although their impacts can extend into the U.S. and around the world.

    7. True or False: El Niños only cause problems; there are no benefits.

    False. El Niños can bring a lot of disruption and damage, but they can also bring many benefits to people and the environment.

    8. True or False: La Niñas are the wicked sisters of El Niños.

    False. La Niñas are approximately the opposite of El Niños as are their impacts on worldwide weather. Neither La Niñas or El Niños are wicked, they're simply part of Earth's climate system and its natural variations.

Tom Murphree

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