El Niño has arrived with a vengeance in the U.S. and interior areas of South America but, according to weather experts, its full impact won’t be felt in Ecuador until February and March. Some earlier predictions suggested that the most serious effects would be felt in December and January.
Officials at NASA and Ecuador’s weather service say that the current El Niño, the strongest on record, is behaving differently than the 1997-1998 event, which devastated coastal areas of Ecuador and Peru.
Raul Mejia, director of Ecuador’s meteorological office, says that heavy rains last week in Guayaquil, Santo Domingo and Esmeraldas are associated with El Niño. “We will see more and more of this but it is coming on more slowly than it did in 1998,” he said. “The Galapagos Islands are getting heavier rain and we expect this to continue.” Two people were killed over the weekend in the Galapagos due to flooding.
Mejia and other experts say that the reason for the late arrival of this season’s El Niño is because the warmer waters are staying further to the west than in other recent El Niños. Surface water temperatures in the central Pacific, 2,000 to 4,000 miles west of South America, are 30 degrees Celsius while waters off of Ecuador are currently in the 26 to 27 degree range. “Once the offshore temperatures reach 28 degrees the rainstorms will develop more intensely and more consistently,” he said. “We will see water temperatures of 28 and higher beginning February.”
Mejia is optimistic that the current El Niño will not be as bad for Ecuador as the 1997-1998 event. “I think it will still could be intense and no one should let down their guard.”
El Niño is already wreaking havoc in many areas of the world, including in Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. It has disrupted the Dakar international auto race.
In the U.S., record heat has spawned heavy rain and tornadoes in the Midwest and South, and the Mississippi River is overflowing its banks in several states.