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El Nino's Return Could Upset indiana, Ohio Weather

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Written Tuesday, July 22, 1997  

The weather pattern known as El Nino (pronounced EL NEEN-yoh) appears to be reemerging in the Pacific Ocean, and that could bring a change for Indiana and Ohio weather for next winter, and even for a few years. The near-record cold that we've experienced off-and-on for the past few years could be replaced by unseasonable warmth.

"It appears that El Nino is roaring back, and this one is showing signs it could become more intense than the one in 1982-83," says Ken Scheeringa, acting state climatologist for Indiana, stationed at Purdue. He remembers well the last major El Nino fifteen years ago that caused weather changes many others still recall.

"That year was when we had the Christmas day in the 60 degree range." The effects of El Nino are always the most apparent near Christmas, and the name "El Nino" refers to the Christ child.

"What we're in now is the opposite of an El Nino," Scheeringa says. "We're feeling the influences of a weather pattern known as 'La Nina.' With this, the ocean surface temperatures are cold, and since the end of last year and the beginning of this year we have been in a predominately cool weather pattern. That's why we've seen such cool temperatures this past winter and into the spring.

"That appears to be changing, perhaps in a very intense way," he says.

According to Scheeringa, the El Nino weather pattern could bring unusually warm and dry weather to the Midwest, especially during winter. El Nino weather patterns occur every few years, most recently during the winters of 1994-95 and 1987-88. The last major El Nino occurred during the winter of 1982-83. That winter, storms caused damage in California and the Gulf States resulting in an estimated 100 deaths and more than $2 billion damage.

Early predictions by the National Weather Service say that this El Nino is even more severe than the 1982-83 episode. Dayton Vincent, Purdue professor of atmospheric sciences, says researchers debate what causes El Nino, but all scientists agree on some characteristics.

"It's well established that the southeastern part of the United States will see more cyclonic activity, and the northern Great Plains and south-central Canada will have more high pressure, so there are fewer storms and less rainfall," Vincent says. "In the Midwest, we lie in a zone that makes it difficult to tell if El Nino affects our weather. This spring we've had a lot of storms to the south while northern Minnesota and northern Michigan had better than normal weather. This could well be associated with the beginning El Nino conditions."

Ralph Gann, USDA state statistician for Indiana, says for farmers in the Eastern corn belt, the El Nino weather pattern could be good news. "The years El Nino was in effect in the 1980s we had record- setting yields, except in 1988 when we had a major drought," he says.

"What's unsettling to many farmers is the increasing volatility of the weather. The past decade has been more erratic than the previous two decades, and that makes it hard to plan for the crops."

More information about the coming El Nino can be found on the Internet at these sites:

* The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has general information on El Nino, including color graphics that help explain the phenomenon, at http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/toga-toa/el-nino/home.html

* The National Center for Atmospheric Research maintains an El Nino site, also including graphics, at http://www.ncar.ucar.edu/archives/asr/ASR94/EDUC/lasers.html

* NOAA's June statement on El Nino can be found at http:// nic.fb4.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/enso_advisory/index.html

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