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El Nino's Global Effects

July 8, 2014

By WeatherBug's Mena Martini


Although El Nino's origins are in the Pacific Ocean, its effects are anything but local. The repetitive warming of the central Pacific Ocean has many far-reaching implications that change weather not only near the Pacific but also around the world.

El Nino can affect each area of the globe differently and it is important to understand its sheer power.

South America:

South America feels the effects of El Nino the strongest. On the west coast, countries like Ecuador, Peru and Chile experience warmer temperatures and increased rainfall from mid-spring until the fall. This increased rainfall can lead to major flooding whenever the El Nino is strong.

El Nino also affects the west coast by reducing the upwelling of cooler, nutrient-rich water that sustains large fish populations like anchovies and jack mackerel. As the water temperature heats up, the primary food sources for the fish tend to disappear. As once abundant fish populations declines, fisherman often overfish until there is no fish left. The decline in many fish populations also leads to the decline of the birds that prey on them.

While some fish populations are reduced during El Nino, others increase very quickly. Scallop and horse mackerel populations both increase during El Nino years because they love the warm water. Other marine life, such as shrimp and sardines, move southward. These fish are still being caught; they are just being caught away from their traditional fishing grounds.

On the northern side of South America, countries like Colombia and even countries in Central America face drier and hotter weather throughout the year.

North America

North America is so large, different parts of it experience El Nino differently. For example, the Northwest and the northern Midwest states see milder and drier winters than average while the southwest United States and Northwest Mexico see much wetter winters than average. Another major climate change credited to El Nino is a reduction in Atlantic Basin hurricanes during the summer months.

Southeast Asia and Australia

When all the warm water moves away from Southeast Asia and towards North and South America, so does all the moisture. During an El Nino event, places like Indonesia and Australia can sustain crippling droughts that can devastate farmers. When preparing for an El Nino, farmers in those areas are advised to create extensive irrigation systems so that their crops and livestock have a chance for survival during the hot, dry months. During these droughts there is a large increase in bush fires, haze as well as a drastic decrease in air quality.


Although Europe is on the other side of the world from the Pacific Ocean, El Nino`s still impact its weather and climate. Its effects are strongest in the winter in Europe. During an El Nino year, Northern Europe sees a much colder, drier winter while Southern Europe sees a wetter, milder winter. The Southern Alps often see a reduced amount of snowfall during an El Nino winter.


Almost as far away as Europe, Africa also feels the many climate affects of a strong El Nino event. Eastern countries like Kenya and Tanzania experience heavy and frequent rainfall and overall wetter conditions extended out to the White Nile basin. Other parts of Africa, however, experience drier-than-usual climates during the winter months. Countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana face bush fires and poor air quality during these El Nino-induced dry months.


El Nino`s can increase the temperature of the globe so greatly that they can even affect the climate of Antarctica. In the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas, an El Nino even can reduce the size of the polar ice caps and produce warmer overall water temperatures. In the Weddell Sea, the water temperatures actually get colder and the polar ice caps do not melt.

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