Just when most Ecuadorians can’t wait for the end to the April – May rainy season, scientists say that an El Niño weather phenomenon may be forming in the Pacific. For coastal areas in particular, El Niño can mean devastation.
Ecuador’s National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (Inamhi) says that a warming trend in ocean waters has been underway for months and it shows no sign of subsiding. One weather model is putting the chance of an El Niño in 2014 above 60%.
The prospect of El Niño brings back painful memories from 1982 and 1998, when heavy rains caused major destruction along the coast. The 1998 event isolated many communities, due to mud slides, and in some cases roads were not reopened for 18 months.
Inamhi director Raul Mejia say that a new El Niño is a strong possibility and that Ecuadorians need to be prepared. “What is not clear is the intensity of the event,” he says. “We have to stay alert for the worst.”
Mejia says that Pacific water temperatures have already risen by more than one degree Celsius and appear to be headed for a two degree rise which, he says, could signal a “severe season.”
The director of the International Centre for the Study of El Niño (Ciifen), Rodney Martinez, agrees with Mejia’s assessment. “It is too early to make accurate predictions since what is happending is thousands of miles off shore, but so far it points to the formation of an El Niño. What we call Intertropical Convergence Zone is a complicated system so it requires some time to compile more information.”
Mejia says that Ecuadorian officials are meeting on a regular basis to assess new information about the possible formation of an El Niño.
Although El Niños always cause coastal flooding, their effect in the mountains can vary. In 1998, many parts of the Andes, including Cuenca, experienced a drought.
Photo caption: The Army was called in to help flood victims near Manta in 1998.