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El Nino Weather May Be Returning

January 10, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean are warming, a change that could mean a return of the El Nino, a climate phenomenon that can affect weather worldwide.

The warming was reported Thursday by the federal Climate Prediction Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The agency said El Nino (pronounced El NEEN-yo) could occur by early spring, but any impact on the United States would be unlikely before late summer, continuing through fall and into next winter.

``The magnitude of an El Nino determines the severity of its impacts,″ said climate specialist Vernon Kousky. ``At this point, it is too early to predict if this El Nino might develop along the same lines as the 1997-98 episode, or be weaker,″ he said.

The 1997-98 El Nino was extremely severe, causing flooding rains in California and along the Gulf Coast.

The climate center said indications of the current warming include increased cloudiness and rainfall over the equatorial central Pacific for the first time since the last El Nino.

``Considering the observed oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns and their recent evolution, it seems most likely that warm-episode conditions will develop in the tropical Pacific over the next 3-6 months,″ Kousky said.

The first area affected would be the tropical Pacific, he said, with Indonesia likely to realize some relief from torrential rains.

If El Nino develops as expected, the Pacific northwest will experience wetter than normal conditions in the fall. In the winter, Louisiana eastward to Florida, and possibly southern California, could also experience wetter than normal conditions, and the northern Great Plains will experience warmer than normal conditions, Kousky said.

Historically, El Ninos have occurred every two to seven years and can last up to 12 months. El Nino means little boy in Spanish. The effect was named by Peruvian fishermen who would notice its impact on their catch around Christmastime and called the phenomenon after the baby Jesus.

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