El Nino In Hawaii

Curious about El Nino, what it is, and how it impacts Hawaii? Read on.

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Matt Anderson's Take

El Nino Background

Before we can talk about El Nino and its impact on Hawaii Weather let's go over a brief overview of what El Nino actually is.

It has a Spanish pronunciation and sounds like El Neen-yo and it's the warm phase of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (aka, ENSO). In plain English, ENSO describes the cycle of warm and cool ocean surface temperatures. The cool cycle is called La Nina while the warm cycle is called El Nino. These cycles cause changes in global temperatures, massive rainfall, Flash Flood, and weather patterns in general.

El Nino Frequency & Effects In Hawaii

El Ninos don't stick to any certain pattern and occur irregularly, usually every two to seven years. The last major El Nino event took place in 1997-1998. Since the year 2000, there have been more minor El Nino events in 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2006-2007, and 2009-2010.

Of course, now we're in 2015 and seeing some a major El Nino season once again. Here in Hawaii we've been seeing hurricane after hurricane heading straight for us. We've been lucky so far with most changing course as they approach.

Even then, we're seeing huge amounts of rain and incredibly hot and humid weather. I've talked to people who live here in Hawaii who have had to run air conditioning for weeks and months at a time because it's so bad. Most of these people normally use their AC a couple of days per year at most. Some have lived in the same place for many years without every once needing AC and now they're running it 24/7 for the last two months.

An increase in warm ocean temperatures also have a negative impact on marine life. One example of this is the massive amounts of coral bleaching that we're seeing around the Hawaiian Islands. What is coral bleaching? When ocean water is too warm, the corals expel the algae that live in their tissues. This turns the coral white. That algae is a food source for the coral, so if the coral stays bleached for too long it can die out. Dead coral can lead to many of the fish who rely on the coral to an early death as well.

El Nino & Global Warming

Anyone else seeing a potential tie in to global warming here or are we still pretending that doesn't exist? At some point we'll all need to take the blinders off on this global warming issue and look for solutions.

As global temperatures rise, ocean temperatures go up as well. As that happens we'll see more coral bleaching, which leads to more marine deaths, and more frequent and stronger El Nino seasons. In Hawaii, hurricane season runs from June to November but a major hurricane hitting the islands is a rare event. In fact, the last major hurricane to hit the islands was Hurricane Iniki that hit Kauai in 1992, doing massive damage.


In July of 2015 we saw six tropical cyclones in the Pacific at the same time, a very rare event. At the end of August and beginning of September we saw Hurricane Kilo, Hurricane Ignacio, and Hurricane Jimena in the Pacific at the same time. Why is that such a big deal? Because they were all Category 4 hurricanes and it was the first time that's ever happened in this area.

As we continue to heat up the planet we'll continue to see more and more impressive weather changes like this. As the ocean gets hotter more ice melts and raises ocean heights. That in turn creates more water volume to warm up, speeding more ice melting, and the cycle repeats. That, in turn, creates more frequent and more powerful El Ninos. It's likely that El Nino events will become more common and continue to have a greater impact on the Hawaiian Islands over the coming years.

How Do We Stop El Nino?

Unfortunately, El Nino is here to stay. The question really is, "How do we stop warming the planet?" The answer to that is both obvious and virtually impossible. We know that fossil fuels are one cause of global warming but it's not like we can all go out and drive around in a Telsa. Even if we could, would that be enough or have we just gone too far? In a world where few of us get along with our neighbors (either down the street or on the other side of the planet) how could we ever band together for a solution?


But maybe there are ways to consume less of everything. Driving less, wasting less, and generally being smarter about our resources. I think this is the only chance we have at slowing these out of control global warming issues. Don't worry about your neighbor and if they recycle or not. Don't wait for a politician to do something. Don't hold your breath for a scientific breakthrough. Don't wait on the law to ban plastic bags that end up in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Just make smarter choices, consume less, and teach your kids to do the same. They're probably the only ones that have a shot and fixing our mess and keeping Hawaii above the high water mark.

In any event, I suggest we all order our plans and materials for an ark sooner rather than later. This time, let's leave off the cockroaches. I'm pretty sure we'll be okay starting over without them.
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Matt Anderson
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