El Niño - Peru’s most impacting weather phenomenon

El Niño - Peru’s most impacting weather phenomenon

For those living close to the Pacific Ocean in South America, el Niño does not only mean “the little boy” in Spanish. El Niño is the spanish given name to a powerful weather phenomenon that occurs around the Pacific Ocean affecting several South American countries such as Peru and Ecuador and to a lesser extend Colombia, Chile and Argentina.

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 In short El Niño Southern Oscillation ENSO occurs because of the warming of the ocean temperature or above-average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

These shifts in temperatures provoke higher temperatures and more rainfall on the coast and highlands. During years of El Niño Peru suffers a lot of additional rain in the highlands in the middle of the rainy season, provoking flooding at the coastal areas and the jungle as most rivers start in the highlands and from here run to the Peruvian Coast or Amazon Rainforest. The Peruvian Coast, for the largest part dry desert with little or no rainfall is not foreseen on this amount of water coming from the mountains and riverbeds that run empty for years all of the sudden have massive amounts of water rushing through them, flushing away everything in or close to the riverbeds. The exceptional high temperature ranges because of this climate pattern during a season (Summer time; December through March) when temperatures are already high provoke droughts and water shortages for the whole country.  

 

The El Niño weather pattern is hard to predict and scientists are still not 100% sure why the phenomenon happens one year and not the next.  Global warming is definitely one of the factors given the high number of El Niño occurrences in the last couple of years and even more their intensity but other factors are still unclear. That El Niño has been happening for thousands of years and that it had and has a huge impact on modern and ancient societies around the Peruvian Pacific Ocean. It is widely accepted that the demise of large ancient societies such as the Chimu and Moche on the Peruvian Coast coincided with years during which El Niño was registered or in periods during which several El Niño periods dominated Peru weather. In modern times the impact of the El Niño phenomenon still is huge in a country such Peru where agriculture is one of the main industries and large parts of the country only have inferior road and other infrastructure suffering under the large quantities of precipitation and consequent flooding and landslides. In 2016 Peru suffered one of the worst El Niños in modern history with hundreds of people that lost their lives and tens of thousands losing their homes and all belongings. Unfortunately the Peruvian people have grown almost insensitive about this and little is being done to prevent the impact of El Niño and the shorter intervals they occur in. It is unlikely that these conditions will improve in the future so it is time that Peru puts the issue on the agenda and starts thinking in lines of prevention for a country that is and will be hit hard by climate changes in the future.  

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