1997 vs. 2015: Animation Compares El Niños Side-by-Side
With this year’s El Niño shaping up to rival the strongest on record, comparisons to the last major El Niño, in 1997-1998, are inevitable. A new animation showing the development of each event side-by-side is the latest example, and provides a window into the similarities and differences between the two climate events.
Those similarities and differences matter because they can affect how an El Niño’s typical impacts on global weather— from drought to deluges — shape up, the reason it receives such rapt attention.
With the inevitable comparisons between this El Niño and the 1997-1998 event — remembered for the incredible rains and mudslides it brought to California (along with Chris Farley’s memorable Saturday Night Live sketch) — Matt Rehme at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Visualization Lab, worked up an animation showing the progression of each event from January through August.
Another difference is that “in 1997, there was no ‘peek-a-boo’ with El Niño the winter before it really got going,” as there was this past winter, Michelle L’Heureux, a NOAA El Niño forecaster, said in an email. The early months of 1997 started off relatively cool in the eastern tropical Pacific, “so the fact we have this strong El Niño … following earlier tropical ocean warmth is unique,” she said.