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Comes the El Niño


For behold, at the time of the changing of seasons, the Nativity, Winter Solstice, Yule, Brumalia, Dongzhi,--however you call it--there arose in the Southern Sea a powerful storm. In keeping with their observance, the peoples of the Peruvian seacoast named the storm 'El Niño' after the birth of the Christ child. The storm was a hot storm, bringing waters ashore that were as much as seven degrees above normal. Fish disappeared. People went hungry. Weather became hostile to the people. Many would die at each appearance of the El Niño. Eventually, the people came to understand that the El Niño appeared in cycles, and although not predictable, accommodation could be made to lessen the impacts. Food could be stockpiled. Houses could be built farther from the shore. Seaports could be hardened. And so the people shouldered the burden and moved on ...

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the old adage goes. We now know that the El Niño is caused by warm surface temperatures in the Southern Pacific that contribute to above-average rainfall, below-average sea oxygenation, increased Pacific hurricanes, and--by cause-and-effect mechanisms not fully understood--fewer Atlantic hurricanes. So as emergency planners, we are DEEPLY interested in what goes on in the Southern Pacific for any number of highly localized reasons. This is an El Niño year--projected to be the strongest in recorded history (thanks, global warming). So far, it has given us:

  • Hurricane Patricia, the strongest in history
  • Another year in which no Atlantic hurricanes came ashore
  • A contribution to the collapse of the pacific sardine population (and everything up the chain)
  • Possibly record snowpack and spring flooding in California
  • Record rains and flooding in Washington State--ongoing

So what's the point? The point is that we now know--WE KNOW--that these outputs are a direct result of the El Niño input. Do we do anything about it? As Florida hurricane preparedness planners, do we use the presence or absence of El Niño as an indicator of how much to stock up? As California water managers, do we use the presence of the El Niño to calculate the replenishment of groundwater resources? As State of Washington emergency planners, did we notify our public that this would be a good year to plan to run to higher ground?

If so, BRAVO!! If not, why not? It's all right there in front of us.

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.