Washington D.C. March 7, 2002 (AP by Randolph E. Schmid)--The signs are strengthening that the world is heading into a return of the El Nino weather phenomenon.
Ocean surface temperatures warmed 4 degrees Fahrenheit in the eastern equatorial Pacific near the South American coast in February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday.
The warming was accompanied by increased rainfall over that area, the agency said in its monthly El Nino report.
``This warming is an additional sign the Pacific Ocean is heading toward an El Nino condition,'' said NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher.
``Its still too early to determine the potential strength of this El Nino or exactly what weather conditions it will bring to the United States, but it is likely these warming conditions in the tropical Pacific will continue until early 2003,'' he said.
The agency said Peruvian officials report already significant impacts on the fishing industry in the region, a common effect of El Nino. The cold-water anchovies have been replaced by tropical species, the agency said.
The warm ocean water alters the normal patterns of cloudiness and rainfall and can influence the movement of weather patterns, potentially affecting weather around the world.
El Ninos occur about every four to five years and can last from 12 to 18 months. It has been nearly four years since the end of the 1997-1998 El Nino. Sometimes an unusual cooling of the ocean waters, called La Nina, occurs between El Ninos.
Typical El Nino impacts on the United States include drier-than-normal monsoon season conditions in the Southwest, drier-than-normal fall and winter in the Pacific Northwest, wetter-than-normal winter in the Gulf Coast states from Louisiana to Florida, warmer-than-normal late fall and winter in the northern Great Plains and the upper Midwest, a reduction in the number of tropical storms in the Atlantic and an increase in the number of East Coast winter storms.
Peruvian fishermen named the phenomenon El Nino--Spanish for little boy--after the Baby Jesus because they usually would notice the effect on their fishing around Christmas time.
For more information, check out NOAA's National Weather Service website athttp://www.nws.noaa.gov
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