Think scientists can't be fooled? Think again! In 1982, the world's leading climatologists
gathered for a conference on a weather pattern called El Niño. The consensus: There would be no
El Niño that year. Yet guess what was happening at the very moment they were meeting? Only the
beginning of what was then the biggest El Niño of the century! (It would later be eclipsed by
the whopper of 1997.) Why did the experts miss it?
(Fogged out? Check out this week's website, Tracking El Niño. It's
packed with helpful hints.)
They were looking at the wrong ocean. At that time,
scientists believed that El Niño was produced in the Atlantic, not the Pacific.
Voyager 2's transmission of pictures from Saturn to Earth interfered with
transmission of crucial weather satellite data that would have helped scientists predict El Niño.
The computer controls for the system of sensor-bearing buoys designed to
detect El Niño in the Pacific Ocean crashed due to excessive salt-water corrosion.
The southern hemisphere's premier El Niño-tracking station, located in
the Falkland Islands, was disabled during the war there between Argentina and England. As a
result, key information that might have helped scientists foresee the coming El Niño was not
The eruption of the El Chichonal volcano in Mexico produced a highly
reflective mist that prevented satellites from detecting the increase in Pacific Ocean
temperatures that indicates the onset of an El Niño.
The debut of MTV distracted the pop-culture obsessed climatologists
from their labors.