El Niño shows signs of weakening but Ecuador could still experience flooding rains and drought

Dec 22, 2023 | 0 comments

For the first time since development began, the El Niño weather system in the Pacific Ocean is showing signs of weakening, according to the director of Ecuador’s Naval Oceanography and Meteorology Institute (Inocar).

The 1997-1998 El Niño caused widespread devastation on Ecuador’s coast.

“In recent weeks, there has been a shift in the position of the South Pacific Anticyclone, which has changed the dynamics of this El Niño,” says Inocar chief Michael Linthon. “At least in the short term, this is good news for Ecuador because it delays the heavy rains we expected on the coast. The north coast and the northern sierra valley have experienced above normal rains recently but the south coast is experiencing a mostly seasonal pattern.”

Linthon explained that anticyclonic winds are usually centered off the coast of Chile but have shifted northward, disrupting the El Niño. The seawater temperature, which had been 2.5 degrees C above normal, has dropped by .5 to one degree and, as a result, the sea level has shown a slight drop.

Linthon cautions that the change could be temporary but says even if El Niño strengthens again, it will occur late in its development cycle, meaning the overall impact will be reduced. “We should still expect above normal rainfall, especially on the coast, beginning in January and serious flooding is still a strong possibility.”

He added that below-average rainfall is still forecast in the higher elevations of the Andes Mountains. “The drought being experienced in the southern sierra will probably continue although we have seen more rain there since mid-December. The dry weather in the south is the reason the country has imposed electricity blackouts since rivers that feed the hydroelectric facilities are running at low levels.”

So what caused the shift in the anticyclonic pattern? “We are not sure but we welcome the change,” Linthon says. “What has happened is that the anti-clockwise circulation has shifted toward the equator and the disruption it causes to El Niño moderates its effects, including seawater temperature rise, which is the primary power of the El Niño.”

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