U.S. photos from space demonstrate that the current El Niño conditions in the Pacific are very much like the one that took place in 1997 and 1998. And that one was a whopper.
The photos validate what weather experts have been saying for months, that the current El Niño is poised to be one of the strongest on record and perhaps the strongest.
“The images show nearly identical, unusually high sea surface heights along the equator in the central and eastern Pacific: the signature of a big and powerful El Niño,” the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a statement.
The latest satellite image of Pacific sea surface heights from the Jason-2 satellite, released Wednesday, differs slightly from one 18 years ago from Topex/Poseidon. In December 1997, sea surface height was more intense and peaked in November. This year the area of high sea levels is less intense but considerably broader, said NASA.
El Niño is a natural phenomenon that occurs every few years, when tropical waters off the Pacific coast of South America turn warmer than normal, the space agency explained. Warm air rises off those
waters and changes the path of the major wind currents that blow around the planet.
NASA says the current El Niño, which has already created weather problems worldwide, shows no sign of waning, which is no surprise to central Pacific and Guanacaste farmers and ranchers who are struggling through a prolonged drought.
The United States could feel El Niño’s biggest effects during the first few months of 2016, NASA added. This could include several months of relatively cool and wet conditions across the southern United States, and relatively warm and dry conditions over the northern United States.
However, NASA says El Niño could bring some relief in the form of rain for the western United States, much of which has suffered through several years of drought.
The World Meteorological Organization said in November that El Niño is expected to continue to strengthen and go down in the history books as one of the strongest ever.
The U.N. agency said then that a mature and strong El Niño event is contributing to extreme weather patterns, and it is expected to strengthen further.