What was it like El Niño of 1997-1998?

- Floro Mercene

Scientists do not yet understand in detail what triggers an El Niño cycle. Not all El Niño are the same, nor do the atmosphere and ocean always follow the same pattern from one El Niño to another.

One of the strongest El Niño in recent decades was developed the winter of 1997-98, and people associate the word El Niño with that event, which was estimated to have caused more than $34 billion in weather-related damage worldwide.

An El Niño event always contribute­s to abnormal rainfall in Peru. During the 1997-98 El Niño, Tumbes, in northweste­rn Peru, received 16 times the annual average rainfall between December and May. Flooding and mudslides killed over 200 in Peru and over 250 in Ecuador. In September of 1997 Hurricane Linda formed off the coast of Mexico and developed into the strongest Eastern Pacific tropical cyclone on record. A month later, Hurricane Pauline hit Mexico killing 250-400 people and dropping 686 mm of rainfall in 24 hours on the town of San Luis, Atlanta. In the Western Pacific, three of the top 10 most intense typhoons on record formed: Super typhoons Joan, Ivan, and Keith. Some cities in California recorded their wettest season on record. Indonesia, Australia, and Philippine­s endured one of its worst droughts on record, and prolonged droughts had severe impact on the growth and production in the plantation and related agro-industries. 1998 was one of the warmest years for much of East and Southeast Asia. In Mongolia temperatur­es peaked at 42.2°C during the summer. In Africa, Kenya had one of its wettest years on record while Mozambique one of its driest. Floods in central Europe killed 55 in Poland and 60 in the Czech Republic. Overall, the year 1998 became the warmest globally ever observed up to that time.

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