The El Nino of 1997-1998

By: Christopher C. Burt , 9:10 PM GMT on March 10, 2014

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The El Niño of 1997-1998

As Jeff Masters blogged on March 6th, NOAA has issued an El Niño watch for later this year with a 50% chance of an El Niño forming. The last major El Niño event was that of 1997-1998. Here’s a very brief summary of some highlights.



A graph of the Oceanic Niño Index between 1950-2014. The El Niño of 1997-1998 was the strongest in modern records. Table from Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services.Sorry about the poor resolution of this table (WU can only give me 720 horizontal dpi for blog graphics (to fit the screen), so visit Jan's web site for a full resolution of this chart (and more details).

Not all El Niño’s have the same affects globally but one place that is always adversely affected is Peru (where the term ‘El Niño’ was first used). The warming of the Eastern Pacific during an El Niño event always contributes to higher than normal rainfall in Peru, sometimes, as was the case in 1997-1998, catastrophically so. One location, Tumbes, in northwestern Peru, received 2,100 mm (82.7”) of precipitation between December 1997 and May 1998, including 730 mm (28.7”) in January alone. The normal rainfall for Tumbes between December-May is just 200 mm (8”). Flooding and mudslides killed over 200 in Peru and over 250 in Ecuador. The Peruvian government said that damage to the nation’s infrastructure cost US$2 billion. In September of 1997 Hurricane Linda formed off the coast of Mexico and developed into the strongest Eastern Pacific tropical cyclone on record with sustained winds reaching 185 mph and a central barometric pressure as low as 900 mb (26.58”) on September 12th. A month later, Hurricane Pauline hit Mexico killing 250-400 people and dropping 686 mm (27.01”) of rainfall in 24 hours on the town of San Luis Actatlan, the 2nd heaviest rainfall recorded in Mexico as a result of a Pacific Hurricane. In the Western Pacific, three of the top 10 most intense typhoons on record formed (two of them simultaneously): Super Typhoon Joan (872 mb/25.75” on Oct. 19), ST Ivan (872 mb on Oct. 18), and ST Keith (878 mb/25.92”) on Nov. 2nd.



Pacific Ocean surface temperature anomalies at the time that the El Niño of 1997-1998 was at its peak strength on December 1st, 1997. NASA/JPL.

In the U.S., the most significant manifestation of the El Niño were the record rainfalls in California during the water season of 1997-1998. Santa Barbara received 21.74” of precipitation in February alone contributing to its wettest water season on record (July 1-June 30) with a 46.99” total. Other California cities that reported their wettest season on record included Bakersfield (14.66”), Fort Bragg (79.13”), Monterey (47.12”), and Santa Maria (32.56”).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, Indonesia endured one of its worst droughts on record and 1998 was one of the warmest years for much of East and Southeast Asia (Malaysia recorded its hottest temperature on record with a 40.1°C/104.2°F reading at Chuping on April 9th) and in Mongolia temperatures peaked at 42.2°C (108°F) during the summer of 1998.

In Africa, Kenya had one of its wettest years on record while Mozambique one of its driest. Floods in central Europe killed 55 in Poland and 60 in the Czech Republic.



A simplified map of how the El Niño of 1997-1998 affected weather events around the world. From Shrimp News.

Overall, the year 1998 became the warmest globally ever observed up to that time.

The 1997-1998 El Niño event, of course, was exceptionally strong and it does not (yet) appear that if an El Niño develops later this year it will be of such intensity. Also, weak or moderate El Niño’s have varying effects on global climate so, for instance, an El Niño next winter does not necessarily mean a wet water season for California.

REFERENCES: Some good popular material about the El Niño of 1997-1998 can be found in the March-April 1999 issue of Weatherwise magazine, the March 1999 issue of National Geographic, and the August 1998 issue of Popular Science.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

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18. Kratje
12:19 AM GMT on March 13, 2014
Quoting 15. BaltimoreBrian:
Kratje I think it depends on how you define 'begin'. The name comes from Peruvian fisherman who noticed that when abnormally warm water showed up near Christmas it would be a bad fishing season for the next year. So they called it 'El Nino'. But the changes in the atmospheric pressures, winds and ocean currents begin months before that. I'm not sure what the strict definition for when an El Nino begins is.


according to the table shown on a NOAA page here the strength of an El Nino in relation to the first month it's declared an El Nino is the following:
Jan 0,80
Feb
Mar
Apr 1,80
May 1,92
Jun 1,40
Jul 1,20
Aug 1,25
Sept 0,80
Okt
Nov
Dec

There seems to be a relation, but it´s based on only 18 El Ninos since 1951.
Member Since: September 12, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 11
17. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
8:31 PM GMT on March 12, 2014
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
16. maxcrc
5:44 AM GMT on March 12, 2014
The most affected area in the world in terms of precipitation change are the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.
The difference is even more dramatic to what you can see in Tumbes.
For example during the 1983 el Nino there were continous floods with extremely high temperatures, similar to those at equatorial areas where there are no cold streams like Humboldt.
During the 1985 Nina NOT EVEN A DROP OF RAIN has been recorded in many of the Galapagos' islands, not even a cloud, just clear skies or fog, all year, with the temperature never reaching 30C throughout the year at sea level ! Something that had never happened anywhere in the world at sea level in the equatorial line. Temperatures were similar to those of subtropical areas like the Canary islands.
The change between 1983 and 1985 was unbeliavable. No place in the world are so greatly affected like the Galapagos islands are, it seems the greatest changes affect the Genovesa island.
Member Since: February 9, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 149
15. BaltimoreBrian
3:57 AM GMT on March 12, 2014
Kratje I think it depends on how you define 'begin'. The name comes from Peruvian fisherman who noticed that when abnormally warm water showed up near Christmas it would be a bad fishing season for the next year. So they called it 'El Nino'. But the changes in the atmospheric pressures, winds and ocean currents begin months before that. I'm not sure what the strict definition for when an El Nino begins is.
Member Since: August 9, 2011 Posts: 26 Comments: 8558
14. mckTXaws
3:51 AM GMT on March 12, 2014
After the 2nd driest winter on record El-Nino sounds great to me. Although it seems like right now it might take more than an El-Nino to end this stupid drought. Hope I'm wrong because this drought is making me postal.
Member Since: April 30, 2008 Posts: 36 Comments: 78
13. Kratje
1:17 AM GMT on March 12, 2014
Quoting 3. weatherhistorian:
That is a great question. We know that some of the strongest tropical storms on record (on earth for that matter) developed in both the Eastern Pacific and Western Pacific Ocean during the fall of 1997, just as the powerful El Nino event began to ramp up. Let's see what happens in the Pacific next September-October.

P.S. Meanwhile, it was a very quiet hurricane season (1997) in the Atlantic.




Thanks for calling it a great question, but nobody answered it. Is there anyone, who has access to El-Nino data and some analytical skills, who can do the math?
Member Since: September 12, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 11
12. DonnieBwkGA
11:52 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
Thanks Naga5000. I've read some articles where the comment section devolved to "97 was stronger" "No 82 was stronger!" "Was not!" "Was too!" I'm curious what Mr. Burt has to say.
Member Since: June 29, 2013 Posts: 21 Comments: 1944
11. Naga5000
11:49 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
Quoting 10. DonnieBwkGA:
Was either the 1982-1983 or 1997-1998 the strongest or were they both about the same intensity?


1997-1998 was stronger I believe, although not by much.
Member Since: June 1, 2010 Posts: 4 Comments: 3249
10. DonnieBwkGA
11:48 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
Was either the 1982-1983 or 1997-1998 the strongest or were they both about the same intensity?
Member Since: June 29, 2013 Posts: 21 Comments: 1944
9. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
11:45 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
I did link to a higher resolution image in my caption below the chart (Jan Null reference). See: http://ggweather.com/enso/oni.htm


Quoting 8. kwgm:
I wish that I could read the chart. Why not link to something larger?
Quoting 8. kwgm:
I wish that I could read the chart. Why not link to something larger?
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 289 Comments: 273
8. kwgm
11:25 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
I wish that I could read the chart. Why not link to something larger?
Member Since: July 24, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 1
7. ColoradoBob1
7:56 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
Extreme precipitation events -

A long predicted outcome of a warming world.

I have long thought that as the system gains more energy, the increase in water moving through it would increase one type of precipitation like we have never seen before. And that is hail in ever increasing size. That is due to thunderstorms reaching above 45,000 feet on an ever increasing basis. Baseball hail is going to much more common in future. I followed this for some time now, and this report from India is pretty chilling :



Is climate change responsible for the hail storms and unseasonal rainfall in Maharashtra?

MUMBAI: Is climate change responsible for the hail storms and unseasonal rainfall in parts of Maharashtra? Or is it a one-off phenomenon?

The South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) on Tuesday described it as "unprecedented."

Hailstorms by the end of February 2014, initially thought of as a one-off phenomenon, continued to batter places like Solapur for nearly two weeks now. Rabi crops like wheat, harbhara, cotton, jowar, summer onion are lost, horticultural crops like papaya, sweet lime, grapes are battered and orchards which took years to grow are ridden to the ground. For many farmers the tragedy is unbearable as majority of crops were about to be harvested. Turmeric was drying in the sun, grapes were waiting to be graded, wheat was harvested and lying in the fields.

According to a preliminary estimate, crops over 12 lakh hectares have been severely affected, thousands of livestock, animals and birds have succumbed to injuries and diseases, which threaten to spread. Around 21 people have lost their lives to the disaster.


Link @ The Times of India
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6. Andrebrooks
6:37 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
Well, let's get ready for this El Niño.
Member Since: March 25, 2013 Posts: 29 Comments: 991
5. blairtrewin
2:15 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
One interesting feature of the 1997-98 El Nino was its relatively modest impacts in Australia; it was a very dry year in Victoria (second-driest on record in Melbourne), but in inland New South Wales and Queensland, normally the region with the strongest El Nino response, rainfall was near or only slightly below normal. In contrast, the 1972-73 and 1982-83 events were both accompanied by major eastern Australian droughts.
Member Since: October 25, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 33
4. ColoradoBob1
9:16 AM GMT on March 11, 2014


Saturday was the warmest 8 March since records began in 1833, and Sunday also set a milestone as temperatures even climbed above 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit). Never before did we have the first "warm day" (i.e. with temperatures exceeding 20 degrees) so early in the year. The normal maximum temperature for this time of year is between 8 and 9 degrees Celsius.




The highest temperature yesterday was measured in Dourbes (Wallonia), with 19.2 degrees Celsius. The central weather station in Ukkel (Brussels) had 19.0 degrees. The previous record, that went back to 1950 with 15.8 degrees, was pulverised.

Today also set a new mark. At 4pm, temperatures in Ukkel had climbed to 21 degrees. In other places, like Sint-Katelijne-Waver (Antwerp province) it was even warmer. The previous record, which went back to 1977 with 18.8 degrees, was, again, broken.

Link
Member Since: August 13, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 2261
3. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
1:31 AM GMT on March 11, 2014
That is a great question. We know that some of the strongest tropical storms on record (on earth for that matter) developed in both the Eastern Pacific and Western Pacific Ocean during the fall of 1997, just as the powerful El Nino event began to ramp up. Let's see what happens in the Pacific next September-October.

P.S. Meanwhile, it was a very quiet hurricane season (1997) in the Atlantic.


Quoting 2. Kratje:
Is there any relation between the month in which an El Nino begins and the strength of the El Nino?

I can imagine that if El Nino kicks in just before Hurricane saeson in the western Pacific, it will be stronger.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 289 Comments: 273
2. Kratje
12:36 AM GMT on March 11, 2014
Is there any relation between the month in which an El Nino begins and the strength of the El Nino?

I can imagine that if El Nino kicks in just before Hurricane saeson in the western Pacific, it will be stronger.
Member Since: September 12, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 11
1. BruceVoigt
10:18 PM GMT on March 10, 2014
QUOTE
WOBBLING of the EARTH
Has been explained by science as like a spinning top slowing. My science explains the flip flop tipping of our earth in its annual orbit around the sun. Until recently the interaction of the earth and sun’s magnetic poles, that give us our four seasons, has been subtle.

Explained in other papers, the earth’s tipping causes an equal and opposite movement of the equator, causing both north and south magnetic poles to relocate in the opposite direction and distance of the earth’s tipping.

It’s too early (February 2006) to determine regularity in the extreme longitudinal flip flopping (tipping of the earth).

The equator has moved one thousand miles north on earth’s North and South America side and one thousand miles south on Asia and Australia’s side.

Earth’s climate is determined by sun exposure, cold secreting from earth’s magnetic north and south poles – the secretion of earth energy evolving to interact with air and water (weather). Secondary to these would be cold producing molecules (chips) of snow and ice, heated water and air.

Like Australia, Arizona gains the heat of the now closer equator (sun exposure) and Japan loses the heat of the equator. Cold produced from the poles has little effect on these, and climate transition is quick. Russia gains cold from its arctic and loses the heat of the equator – its transition is quicker than ours.

Waiting for the ice to melt, Canada’s warming will be more gradual. If this extreme flip flopping becomes the norm, we in Vancouver, B.C. will enjoy the weather of Los Angeles, C.A. and they will endure the heat of Mexico .
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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.