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NOAA satellite image of sea surface temperatures.January 10, 2002 — NOAA's Climate Prediction Center officially announced today that warming is being observed over the Tropical Pacific, which could lead to an El Niño by early Spring. The U.S. is not expected to see its potential impacts until late summer, through the fall and into next winter. (Click NOAA satellite image to see latest sea surface temperatures.)

NOAA cautions the public that it is too early to predict the magnitude of the potential 2002 El Niño, or how long it would last. "The magnitude of an El Niño determines the severity of its impacts," said Vernon Kousky, NOAA climate specialist. "At this point, it is too early to predict if this El Niño might develop along the same lines as the 1997-98 episode, or be weaker," said Kousky.

Today's announcement is strongly supported by enhanced cloudiness and precipitation occurring over the equatorial central Pacific for the first time since the 1997-98 El Niño episode. Indications for a warm episode, or El Niño, in the Tropical Pacific was first noted in August 2001. "Considering the observed oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns and their recent evolution, it seems most likely that warm-episode conditions will develop in the tropical Pacific over the next 3-6 months," said Kousky.

"The first region on the globe to experience El Niño's impacts would be in the tropical Pacific," said Kousky. "Indonesia is likely to realize some relief from torrential rains. If El Niño develops as is presently indicated, the Pacific northwest will experience drier than normal conditions in the fall. In the winter, Louisiana eastward to Florida, and possibly southern California, could experience wetter than normal conditions, and the northern Great Plains will experience warmer than normal conditions."

The last El Niño took place in 1997-1998 and was extremely severe. In the U.S. it was marked by such conditions as flooding rains in California and along the Gulf Coast. NOAA's long range prediction of this El Niño led California to conduct major mitigation efforts leading to the reduction in losses of about $1 billion.

Historically, El Niño episodes have occurred every two to seven years and can last up to 12 months. NOAA will continue to carefully monitor its evolution and provide monthly updates to the public. The next scheduled update will be in early February 2002.

NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the United States and its territories. NWS operates the most advanced weather and flood warnings and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center

El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion

Most Recent 2 Months Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly Animation

El Niño and La Niña-related Winter Features over North America

NOAA's El Niño Theme Page

NOAA's El Niño Home Page



ENSO Fact Sheet

ENSO Frequently Asked Questions

ENSO Tutorial

ENSO Recent Events

Sea Surface Temperature Outlook

ENSO Impacts by Region

Media Contact:
Carmeyia Gillis, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, (301) 763-8000 ext. 7163