Humberto Gómez, director of Ecuador’s Naval Oceanographic Institute, says many people are mistaking the heavy rains of March and early April for the arrival of the El Niño weather phenomenon.
“The El Niño that was forming this time last year weakened and did not develop,” Gómez says. “The rainy weather we have experienced this year is not associated with El Niño but with other atmospheric conditions,” he adds. Newspaper headlines proclaiming that the El Niño has arrived are inaccurate, he says.
Recent rains have caused floods and landslides in much of Ecuador but other areas have received below-average rainfall, including Cuenca. “The weather patterns have been very erratic this year, Gómez says. “Some areas have been devastated, especially in west of Quito to the coast, and in El Oro, Los Rios, Loja and Guayas provinces in the south, but this is not consistent with what we would expect from an El Niño.”
Gómez says that there appears to be an El Niño currently forming in the Pacific but it is weak. “It would not affect us until late in the year if it develops at all.” El Niños are formed thousands of miles west of Ecuador and Peru in the Pacific Ocean, when temperatures in the upper 200 meters of ocean waters rise two to three degrees Celsius.
Ecuador has been devastated by El Niños in the past. During the 1997 – 1998 El Niño, tens of thousands of homes and buildings were flooded and several thousand were lost. The coastal highway became impassable in many locations due to landslides and several communities were isolated. It took more than a year to reopen the highway and longer to clear secondary roads.
“El Niños are very serious events for Ecuador and have terrible consequences,” Gómez says. “Let’s pray that we do not see one any time soon.”