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 What is El Niño?

Print, electronic and social media in East Africa have portrayed El Niño as a condition with exceptionally heavy rains, perhaps because of the phenomenal occurrence in 1997/98. However, El Niño is not always associated with heavy rains in East Africa. As a matter of fact, some of the wettest years on record in East Africa (the classic example of which was 1961) were not linked to El Niño!

Panelists from left Ms Stella Aura,P.Ambenje,Mwangi,ICPAC Representative and Dr.NYamai

 The phrase El Niño (pronounced as El Ninyo) literally means “the boy child”, the shortened form for El Niño de Navidad, which means The Boy Child of Christmas. This phrase was coined by fishermen in Latin America who observed that during certain years around Christmas time the fish catch was adversely affected by warm ocean waters, which they associated to spiritual forces.

During El Niño events, a warm ocean current flows off the coast of northern South America in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean. This warm current, which results from weakened surface easterly winds, is often accompanied with decreased upwelling of ocean water and reduced upward transport of plankton that is necessary for the countries’ thriving fish industry. El Niño is a fairly frequent phenomenon with a rate of recurrence of one every three to seven years.

How El Niño Influences Rainfall in East Africa

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