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Chasing El Niño

Program Overview


NOVA examines the effects of past and present El Niños on global weather and follows the work of scientists who are trying to understand and predict this phenomenon.

  • Scientists use computer models to describe the climate cycle that produces El Niño.

  • In 1984, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) begins building the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array, a network of buoys that measure surface winds, surface temperature, upper ocean temperature and ocean currents. By 1994, the first El Niño early warning system is in place.

  • Scientists are unable to predict the '82-'83 El Niño due to a volcanic eruption that obscures the vision of satellites, falsely lowering the readings of sea surface temperatures by a few degrees.

  • With the help of data collected by the TAO array, scientists forecast the on-coming of the '97-'98 El Niño. Even so, predictions do not accurately project the magnitude and rapid development of this El Niño.

  • By flying a plane into a storm, meteorologists collect data on wind speed, temperature, rainfall and atmospheric pressure. They use this information to forecast where the storm's precipitation will fall.

Teacher's Guide
Chasing El Niño
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