102_0083Recent rains in Puerto Peñasco and the Southwestern United States, including heavy snows in the mountainous regions are the result, we’re told, of a weather phenomenon called the “El Nino Effect.”

But what exactly is an El Nino and how does it form?

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – El Nino is a “complex weather pattern resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.” In turn, rising ocean temperatures cause changes to atmospheric circulation patterns – the “jet stream” – influencing global weather. Additionally, El Nino’s most commonly develop in the winter months.

Simply, the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean bordering the Equator become warmer than usual. The warming cycle usually enhances rain and snow developments in the western United States, as well as other regions. Recent floods and above average snow events in California and the central U.S. are believed to have been cause by El Nino. Wetter than normal conditions are typical during these periods.

The opposite of El Nino – “The Little Boy or Christ Child” – is “La Nina, the Little Girl.” La Nina represents recurrent events of lower than average sea surface temperatures at the Pacific Equator. Consequently, a drying cycle usually takes place.

Both El Nino and La Nina weather patterns usually last 9 to 12 months, but can be prolonged. It is not unusual for them to last a year or longer. On average, these cycles occur every few years with extreme events happening about every 15-20 years. Which is why we frequently see periods of drought followed by extended cycles of moisture.

Dr. Mike Crimmins, a University of Arizona climatologist, believes this year’s El Nino will be similar to the 1982-83 and 1996-97 events in which heavy flooding occurred in Arizona and much of the Southwest. Actually, Crimmins believes the current El Nino may be the strongest in 65 years and possibly a record breaker.

NOAA has also predicted a 95 percent chance an intense El Nino will continue through the winter and last until spring 2016. Then, Crimmins forecasts a gradual drying trend and the return of La Nina next winter as the Equatorial waters begin to cool again.

El Niños/La Niñas weather developments are simply a cyclic natural occurrence and has little to nothing to do with climate change, global warming or any other politically concocted fantasy. If something is to be blamed, look no further than the sun. It has much more influence upon the Earth than anything man could possibly be responsible for.

Incidentally, another side-benefit of winter El Nino’s are the dazzling sunrises and sunsets. These celestial canvasses can be unbelievably stunning in color, texture and visual appeal. We are fortunate to live in an area which allows us to witness these remarkable wonders on a regular basis.