El Niño shows signs of developing in the Pacific Ocean; an El Niño devastated much of Ecuador’s coastal region in 1997 and 1998

Jun 15, 2015

The British Meteorological Office (BMO) says that the El Niño weather phenomenon shows signs of strengthening in the tropical Pacific Ocean and could affect Ecuador and Peru in early 2016.

It would be the first major El Niño in more than five years. In 2014, there were indications that a strong El Niño was forming but weather conditions changed and the system weakened.

Graphic of the 1997-98 El Niño that caused heavy damage to Ecuador's coast.

Graphic of the 1997-98 El Niño that caused heavy damage to Ecuador’s coast.

“The current outlook suggests that an El Niño is likely, at least as a moderate event, and there is a risk of it developing into a major event,” the BMO statement said.

On Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center of the U.S. National Weather Service said the El Niño had a 90 percent chance of developing during the northern hemisphere summer.

Ecuador’s Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology agrees with the analysis and is advising the government risk management office to be prepared.

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An El Niño is the result of a warming of the Pacific Ocean, and is part of a complex interaction between the atmosphere and ocean. During an El Niño, higher than normal ocean temperatures send extra moisture into the atmosphere affecting weather patterns worldwide. Its development is often related to monsoons in Southeast Asia and drought in southern Australia and the Philippines, and can intensify snowstorms in the United States, and cause heat waves in Brazil, and floods in Mexico.

In Ecuador and Peru, El Niño can cause devastating rains in coastal areas and drought in the sierra.

During the 1997 – 1998 El Niño, tens of thousands of homes and buildings were flooded and several thousand were lost in Ecuador. The coastal highway between Salinas and Esmeraldas became impassable in many locations, due to landslides, and several communities were completely isolated. It took more than a year to reopen the highway and longer to clear secondary roads.

 

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