According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), the world may be hit with another El Niño phenomenon
The NOAA defines El Niño as a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere
system in the Tropical Pacific that has important consequences
for weather and climate around the world. What does this mean
When El Niño made its last appearance in 1997-98, the islands
were hit with droughts, increased risk of hurricanes, and
high surf on the northern shores of all islands.
Because of the change in weather patterns associated with
El Niño, winter storms have been known to cross the Pacific
region just north of the Hawaiian Islands. In January and
February of 1998, high surf conditions prompted the National
Weather Service to issue a total of 100 surf advisories. One
event in late January produced waves of 35-40 feet on the
north and northwest coasts of Kauai and O‘ahu.
Unlike many placesoin the mainland, Hawai‘i’s economy is
limited mainly to tourism and farming. Tourism didn’t suffer.
The big surf produced by El Niño brought visitors and locals
in droves to O‘ahu’s North Shore and breathed life into its
On the downside, Hawai’i’s crops were hit hard by drought.
The Big Island suffered most of all, and a state of emergency
was called. Residents found themselves lining up at public
spigots for drinking water. Nearly 100 wild fires broke out
across the island due to the extremely dry temperatures, and
crops, from macadamia nuts to pineapples, experienced losses
from 20 to 100 percent. Because of the losses, many residents
found themselves without jobs.
Hurricanes are also a potential risk with El Niño. Weather
experts say that hurricanes are more likely during this phenomenon.
During the 1997 hurricane season, June through November, nine
tropical storm systems developed in the central Pacific due
to El Niño. The 36-year average is 4.5.
To further study and prepare for future El Niño activity,
the NOAA observes conditions in the Pacific near the equator,
which is where El Niño is known to originate. A system of
buoys measures temperatures, currents, and winds in the equatorial
band. These buoys transmit data on a daily basis and help
forecasters and researchers monitor conditions.
The NOAA uses a scale of 1-10 to rate the severity of each
El Niño phenomenon:, with 1 the weakest and 10 the highest.
The most recent prediction for 2002-03 is rated between 5.0
to 7.5, which ranks from mild to moderate. El Niño’s last
occurrence in the late ‘90s was rated slightly higher on this
As meteorologist Jim Weyman and the Honolulu Advertiser recently
reminded readers, it is appropriate to remember that forecasts
based on historical analyses of past El Niño events are completely
speculative (www.cnn.com, www.prh.noaa.gov).