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El Niño, 1997-1998The Climate Event of the Century$
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Stanley A. Changnon

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195135510

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195135510.001.0001

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What Made El Niño 1997-1998 Famous?: The Key Events Associated with a Unique Climatic Event

What Made El Niño 1997-1998 Famous?: The Key Events Associated with a Unique Climatic Event

(p.3) 1 What Made El Niño 1997-1998 Famous?: The Key Events Associated with a Unique Climatic Event
El Niño, 1997-1998

Stanley A. Changnon

Oxford University Press

El Niño 97-98 provided one of the most interesting and widely known climatic events of this century. It garnered enormous attention not only in the scientific community but also in the media and from the American public. El Niño developed rapidly in the tropical Pacific during May 1997, and by October “El Niño “had become a household phrase across America. Television and radio, newspapers and magazines pummeled America with the dire tales of El Niño during the fall of 1997 as the climate disruption battered the West Coast and the southern United States with storm after storm. Worried families changed vacation plans, and insurance executives pondered losses and raised rates. Victims of every type of severe weather blamed El Niño . After a winter filled with unusual weather, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared, “This winter’s El Niño ranks as one of the major climatic events of this century.” It was the first El Niño observed and forecast from start to finish. The event was noteworthy from several perspectives. • First, it became the largest and warmest El Niño to develop in the Pacific Ocean during the past 100 years. • Second, the news media gave great attention to the event, and El Niño received more attention at all levels than had any previous climate event. • Third, scientists were able to use El Niño conditions to successfully predict the climate conditions of the winter six months in advance. • Fourth, the predictive successes brought new credibility to the science of long-range prediction and, in general, acted to increase the public’s understanding of the climate and oceanic sciences. • Fifth, there were notable differences in how weather-sensitive decision makers reacted to the predictions, some used them for great gain, while others, fearing failure, did not. • Sixth, the great strength of El Niño brought forth claims that the phenomenon was the result of anthropogenic-induced global warming. This possibility was debated and added to the scientific-policy debates surrounding climate change. • Seventh, the net effect of the El Niño -influenced weather on the United States was an economic benefit, after early fears and predictions of great damages.

Keywords:   coastal storms, drought, fires, home sales, news media, popular culture, risk averse, scientific controversies, tornadoes

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