El Nino: Key things to know about the global climate pattern’s impact on Nepal

color coded El_Niño_and_La_Niña
Global average temperature rise data during El Nino events. Graphic: Wikimedia Commons

Understanding El Nino and its effects is an important area of research in climate science today. The main event or its cascading events can significantly impact any country’s climate, economy and overall well-being. Because El Nino may bring unpredictable and extreme weather conditions such as droughts, floods and landslides, it can have a negative influence on agriculture, water supply and human habitation, resulting in crop failures, food shortages and economic losses.

As a country relying on agriculture, Nepal must comprehend the El Nino phenomenon and take the appropriate steps to limit its effects.

Here are a few things you need to understand about El Nino and if it impacts Nepal or not:

What is El Nino?

El nino and la nina
Infographic on El Nino events. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

El Nino is a climate pattern that occurs every few years in the Pacific Ocean, characterised by warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central tropical Pacific. The trade winds that normally sweep across the Pacific Ocean from east to west diminish, allowing warm water to accumulate in the eastern Pacific. This may have a big influence on global weather patterns and ocean currents, including increased rainfall in some areas and droughts in others. It can influence everything from agriculture to fisheries and public health.

El Nino can potentially reduce the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, which is excellent news for coastal towns.

The term El Nino comes from Spanish, meaning a little boy, because it often occurs around Christmas time. It is part of a larger climate cycle known as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which includes both the El Nino and La Nina phases. The opposite phase of El Nino is known as La Nina, which refers to a girl child. Surface temperatures in the eastern and central tropical Pacific Oceans are colder than usual during La Nina episodes.

Where do you see its impact?

Southern oscillation index map of el nino
Southern oscillation index map of El Nino. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It is important to remember that El Nino events are highly variable and can have different impacts each time they occur. The effects may be felt in many places of the world and can endure for several months to a year or more, causing droughts in some regions while leading to floods in others. It can lead to changes in the position and intensity of the jet stream, which can influence the formation of storms and weather systems in North America, Europe and Asia.

The warmer ocean temperatures can also affect marine life or ecosystems, as changes in ocean temperatures and circulation patterns can affect the distribution and abundance of marine species. Events associated with it can cause coral bleaching, which occurs when the symbiotic algae that live within coral tissues are expelled due to stress from warmer water temperatures. It may also have an impact on the distribution and availability of fish populations, which can have serious economic and ecological ramifications for fishing communities all over the world.

Important facts

Southern oscillation index map of La Nina. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Southern oscillation index map of El Nino. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

El Nino typically occurs every two to seven years’ span and can last for several months to a few years. It can have significant impacts on global weather patterns, including changes in precipitation, temperature, and storm frequency as well as other major weather events. It is frequently related to above-average temperatures in North America and below-average temperatures in regions of South America and Asia. Following is a list of such events:

  • The 1982-1983 event was one of the strongest on record, and it caused severe weather patterns around the world. The US experienced severe droughts, while countries in Africa and Asia suffered from severe floods.
  • The 1997-1998 event resulted in droughts in Indonesia and Australia while South America experienced heavy rainfall and flooding.
  • The 2015-2016 event was also damaging as it caused severe weather patterns around the world resulting in droughts in Southeast Asia, Australia, and South America, while California experienced heavy rainfall and flooding.

During the 2015-2016 El Nino event, many countries in Southeast Asia and Africa experienced severe droughts, leading to crop failures and food shortages.

Is Nepal impacted?

Yes, Nepal is and can be impacted by El Nino. Depending on the strength of the event, it can lead to changes in precipitation patterns in Nepal and other parts of Asia. This can have serious consequences for agriculture and water supplies, especially in places that rely significantly on monsoon rains, with some regions facing less rainfall and drought conditions while other regions may receive increased rainfall and flooding

These changes in precipitation patterns can affect agriculture, water availability and food security in the country. While the impacts on Nepal can be complex and difficult to predict, it is clear that this phenomenon can have serious consequences for the country’s climate, ecology and economy.

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