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Stick A Fork In It: Federal Meteorologists Say El Nino Is Done

A man observes crashing waves from the Pacifica Pier in Pacifica, Calif., in January.
Jeff Chiu
A man observes crashing waves from the Pacifica Pier in Pacifica, Calif., in January.

This year's extra-large El Nino weather pattern is over, according to federal meteorologists.

"We're sticking a fork in this El Niño and calling it done," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists wrote on a blog tracking the 15-month-long weather event.

"Over the past few months, the tropical Pacific has cooled off rapidly, and all these atmospheric indicators returned to average conditions during May," the scientists said. "The king is dead!"

The pattern "brings heavy rains to many parts of the country" — and this year's was "one of the strongest ever," as NPR's Christopher Joyce tells our Newscast unit. Chris explains the impact:

"The El Nino weather pattern brought soaking rains and storms to many parts of the U.S. There was record-breaking flooding in parts of the southeast and the Gulf coast."

"El Nino also pushed much needed rain into California, suffering from a multi-year, record drought. But it wasn't enough to restore reservoirs and groundwater to normal."

"El Nino is set in motion when unusually warm waters in the Pacific move east. That initiates a chain of events that affects weather in Asia as well the Americas."

NOAA Climate Prediction Center deputy director Mike Halpert says this El Nino "will go down as one of the three strongest El Ninos on record, along with 1997-1998 and 1982-83," The Associated Press reported.

As we reported, El Nino also compounded the damage that climate change is wreaking on coral reefs worldwide. The Great Barrier Reef has been hit particularly hard in recent months, with only 7 percent of the reef free of bleaching.

El Nino also "intensified massive wildfires in Indonesia, which emitted more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than Japan does in a year by burning fossil fuels," according to The Washington Post.

Chris adds that experts expect El Nino to now be replaced by La Nina, which "means cooler Pacific waters and more normal weather for the U.S." Federal meteorologists at NOAA say La Nina is "favored to develop during the Northern Hemisphere summer 2016, with about a 75% chance of La Nina during the fall and winter 2016-17."

As the NOAA scientists write on their blog, "Long live the queen!"

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.