Back to Nature (Published on - April 12, 2007)
The yin and yang – nature’s enigmatic cycles
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Although nature is beautiful … nature is also deserving of our respect when the storms begin to brew upon the horizon.
We know something mysterious is out there in the Pacific Ocean affecting our weather determining how much plywood we need to buy and how many batteries we must keep on hand.

We also know that these phenomena’s have Spanish names, El Niño and La Niña, and have something to do with warm and cold water, but what else do we know about these unexplainable, at times wild, fierce, violent cycles?

El Niño – the yang

El Niño is an abnormal warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific. South American fishermen have given this phenomenon the name El Niño, which is Spanish for “the Christ child,” because it comes about the time of the celebration of the birth of the Christ child – Christmas.

NASA explains: “Although scientists don’t fully understand how fluctuations such as El Niño work, they are learning more about them. In a normal year steady winds blow westward and push warm surface water toward the western Pacific Ocean. In contrast, during an El Niño year, weakened winds allow warm water to occupy the entire tropical Pacific. Rain follows the warm water eastward, causing drought in Indonesia and Australia and altering the path of the Jet Stream, which helps determine the weather in North America.”

NOAA: “El Niño refers to the irregular warming in the sea surface temperatures from the coasts of Peru and Ecuador to the equatorial central Pacific. This causes a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather around the globe.”

La Niña – the yin

NOAA: “La Niña means “The Little Girl.” La Niña is sometimes called El Viejo (Old Man), anti-El Niño, or simply “a cold event” or “a cold episode.”

FEMA provides this explanation for La Niña: “La Niña is the sort of opposite of El Niño. During a La Niña, the water in the same area along the equator gets colder than usual. This, too, affects weather around the globe and in the United States. In the United States, La Niña is expected to bring above normal temperatures throughout most of the Southwest and southern Florida ... These warmer conditions will extend across the Southeast during the winter months. Cooler than normal winter temperatures are expected in the Pacific Northwest. Cooler than normal temperatures are also expected across the Great Lakes and Northeast later in the winter into spring.”

National Geographic: “La Niña: where climate patterns and worldwide effects are, for the most part, the opposite of those produced by El Niño. Where there was flooding there is drought, where winter weather was abnormally mild, it turns abnormally harsh.”

All that said, the simplest explanation I found was at the United States Department of Energy site by Argonne National Laboratory scientist David Cook: “El Niño is the condition when the atmosphere and ocean currents cause a movement of warmer water to the eastern Pacific. There is kind of a snowball effect when the process begins that can result in severe warming of the ocean off the northern west coast of South America. This prevents water from deeper in the ocean from upwelling to the surface … usually, causing drought in the southwestern part and plains of North America. In between El Niño and La Niña are “normal” conditions. So, if the El Niño and La Niña did not occur, we would have less variable weather conditions. This would be better for agriculture and the fishing industry, at least.”

Experts have increased the 2007 hurricane season forecast to more than the average 1950-2000 season. On April 3, researcher, meteorologist and professor at Colorado State University, Dr. William Gray said, “There is a good chance that at least one major hurricane will hit the U.S. coast.” This early April forecast was recently published: Extended Range Forecast of Atlantic Seasonal Hurricane Activity and U.S. Landfall Strike Probability for 2007 by Dr. Gray and Philip J. Klotzbach working together as a team with special assistance from William Thorson.

The Colorado State University team is expecting either neutral or weak-to-moderate La Niña conditions to be present during the upcoming hurricane season. Tropical and North Atlantic sea surface temperatures remain well above their long-period averages. In this report, Gray and Klotzbach predict: “We have increased our forecast for the 2007 hurricane season, largely due to the rapid dissipation of El Niño conditions. We are now calling for a very active hurricane season.”

The report estimates that 2007 will have about nine hurricanes (average is 5.9) and 17 named storms (average is 9.6), three intense (Category 3-4-5) hurricanes (average is 2.3) and eight intense hurricane days (average is 5.0). As well, landfall probabilities for the 2007 hurricane season are well above their long-period averages with Atlantic basin net tropical cyclone activity expected in 2007 to be about 140 percent of the long-term average.

What all this means is: Last summer we got off pretty light in Florida. Summer 2007 Floridians need to be especially aware and prepared. There are no excuses for not being equipped, ready and organized. Northerners know the routine well. It would be unheard of to go out without a shovel, kitty litter or sand, emergency blanket, flashlight and other winter survival gear.

Floridians must give a heads up and heed the warnings, because although nature is incredibly beautiful … nature, this planet under our feet, the oceans that surround our land, the winds, the cooling, cleansing rains, is also powerful, unbiased, indiscriminate and forever and a day enigmatic deserving of our respect … always mindful back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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