Freak of Nature

From the March 1998 Trumpet Print Edition

When will the devastation of El Niño end? Scientists reassure us that the deadly weather patterns should abate by the end of April. Leaving a wake of death and destruction, this season’s El Niño phenomenon lived up to its deadly forecast.

In the fall of 1997, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists and other weather researchers warned of an unprecedented warming of sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean region. These abnormally high temperatures are responsible for building the destructive weather patterns that are rhythmically impacting the Americas and other regions of the world.

Flooding in Peru has left over a quarter of a million people homeless. Well over 100 people have lost their lives in mudslides and flooding which was triggered by El Niño rains in Peru alone. Further north, the west coast of Mexico has also been attacked by unusually high amounts of rain. California has been ravaged by torrential rains and mudslides as well. Raging rivers overflowing their banks and flooding communities dominated national news during February. Tornadoes that ripped through central Florida left 40 people dead and twisted the lives of hundreds of other residents. These tornadoes proved to be the most devastating in Florida’s history.

In the northern tiers of the United States, residents enjoyed warmer than usual weather.

“There seems to be no relief in sight. The El Niño pattern will continue ‘much the same’ in both California and Florida, chiefly in the form of ‘heavy episodic events,’ said Ants Leetmaa, director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in Washington” (Washington Post, Feb. 2, 1998). That is until the end of April or early May. When all is said and done, many expect the human and financial tolls to be greater than the El Niño of 1982-83. That occurrence “was the strongest this century, [costing] the United States about $2.5 billion in disaster damage and crop losses” (ibid).