Focus Areas E2- Oceanography

The general impacts of El Niño

Although many think of El Niño as a weather event it can at times have a major global economic impact. A single extreme El Niño set of conditions can effect up to one billion people worldwide.  With floods, cyclones and hurricanes in the Americas, and drought and bushfire in Australia extending into counties bordering the Indian Ocean, farms and other productive land can be devastated causing food and produce shortages. This lack of primary production then has an effect on import and export costs which are passed down to the average consumer in countries that were not otherwise affected by El Niño. This produces price rises around the globe.

Other impacts of an El Niño episode can include the loss of infrastructure, such as power and water, of possessions such as cars and boats, and of housing that must be re-built after flooding, cyclones, hurricanes and bushfires.  This then has an effect on both public and private insurance costs.  

Figure 1:  Eastern Australian fires on January 8 1994 (Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology)

In 1982-3, a major El Niño event occurred which was one of the worst on record; the 6 month average SOI (April to September) dropped to as low as –16. Fisheries off the Pacific coast of South America lost about $290 million; as their catches declined, Peru and Ecuador had their heaviest recorded rainfall and suffered severe flooding.  At the same time, eastern Australia underwent one of its worst ever droughts; economic losses exceeded $3 billion resulting from drastic reductions in agricultural production, the tragic Ash Wednesday bushfires and spectacular dust-storms.

Figure 2:  Fire truck burnt out in a violent bushfire. (Source: CSIRO Australia )

Below is a list of some of major global effects, outside of Australia, of the 1982-1983 El Niño. The costs shown below are from 1982-1983, which means that a similar strength El Niño today would probably result in costs of at least three or four times those of 1982-1983.
 

Table 1:  The worldwide effects of the 1982-1983 El Niño event
(Source: Topographic Engineering Centre )

Country

Effect of 1982-1983 El Niño

Bolivia

Storm related floods which caused $300 million in damage with 50 people dead and 26,000 people homeless

Christmas Island

17 million birds disappear from the island, they abandoned their nestlings

CalifornianCoast

Torrential rains, winds and high tides severely erode coastline and dislodge kelp beds.  Fishermen start to find marine species that do not belong there and could not find species that did. Los Angeles had triple the usual amount of rainfall

Cuba

Storm related floods caused $17 million worth of damage with 15 people dead

Ecuadorand northern Peru

Flooding and coastal destruction from high surf conditions causing $650 million worth of damage with 600 people dead

 French Polynesia

Six major tropical storms with several towns swept away by storm surges with an unknown damage cost

Galapagos Islands

Massive bird migration off the island with bird and mammal nests abandoned and nearly 100% of the fur seal pups lost and 95% coral reef mortality

Hawaii

A hurricane causing $230 million worth of damage with one person dead.

Iberian Peninsula & Northern Africa

Severe drought causing $200 million worth of damage

Indonesia

Severe drought causing $500 million worth of damage with 340 people dead

Japan

Cold ocean currents extend further south reducing abalone harvest off the coast of Honshu Island

Kiribato to the Line Islands

Heavy storms with damage reports incomplete

Mexicoand Central America

Severe drought causing $600 million worth of damages

Micronesia

Severe droughts and fires with damage costs incomplete

Middle East (mostly Lebanon)

Severe cold and snow causing $50 million worth of damage with 65 people dead

Philippines

Severe drought causing $450 million worth of damage

Southern Africa

Severe drought causing $1 billion worth of damages

Southern Brazil, Northern Argentina and eastern Paraguay

Flooding which caused $3 billion worth of damage with 170 people dead and 600,000 people evacuated

Southern China

Extreme wet weather causing $600 millions worth of damage with 600 people dead

Southern India and Sri Lanka

Drought causing $150 million worth of damage

Southern Peru and Western Bolivia

Droughts which caused $240 million worth of damages

Tahiti

A hurricane which caused $50 million worth of damage and one person dead

The USA – Mountain and Pacific States

Severe storms which caused $1.1 billion worth of damage and left 45+ people dead.

The USA - The Southwest States

Storms in which the damage cost is incomplete

The USA – The Gulf States

Storm related floods which caused $1.1 billion worth of damage and left 50+ people dead

The USA – Northeastern States

Storms in which the damage cost is incomplete and left 66 people dead

Western Europe

Storm related floods which caused $200 million worth of damages and left 25 people dead


Outcomes
Students learn about El Niño and La Niña
Students learn to identify features of El Niño and La Niña