El Niño Watch

  • Released Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:50PM

After enduring an especially cold winter in the Northeast and years of drought in the Southwest, the United States could use a strong El Niño. An El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs about every three to seven years. One benefit is that it keeps the northern two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. much warmer than normal during winter, while drenching the lower third of the country with rain. However, it can also disrupt normal weather patterns, resulting in severe floods and forest fires. This year, scientists have already spotted precursors to El Niño conditions brewing in the Pacific Ocean. Masses of warm water have migrated from southeast Asia toward the typically cool waters off South America in what are called Kelvin waves. If these waves persist through the summer, the country may experience the strongest El Niño since 1997. Watch the video to learn more.

The Jason-2 satellite uses radar to measure the height of the ocean surface—an indicator of how warm the water is below.

The Jason-2 satellite uses radar to measure the height of the ocean surface—an indicator of how warm the water is below.

The satellite data is wrapped on a globe, giving scientists a view of how ocean height and temperature are changing over time.

The satellite data is wrapped on a globe, giving scientists a view of how ocean height and temperature are changing over time.

El Niño events are characterized by a band of warm water swell (red) that stretches across the equatorial Pacific.

El Niño events are characterized by a band of warm water swell (red) that stretches across the equatorial Pacific.

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Please give credit for this item to:
Science@NASA and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Images courtesy of NASA/JPL