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What is El-Niņo?
1997 - 1998
What Did El Niņo 1997 - 1998 Bring to Canada?
How Did El Niņo 1997 - 1998 Compare with Previous El Niņos?
What are El Niņos Global Impacts?
Quick Facts

La Nina


El Niņo is a warming of waters in the eastern Pacific Oceans near the equator, thought to be caused by changes in the normal patterns of trade wind circulation.Normally, these winds move westward, carrying warm surface waters to Indonesia and Australia and allowing cooler waters to up well along the South American coast.  For reasons not yet fully understood, these trade winds can sometimes be reduced, or even reversed.  This moves warmer waters toward the coast of South America and raises water temperatures.

Warmer water causes heat and moisture to rise from the ocean off the coasts of Ecuador and Peru.  The result is more frequent storms and torrential rainfall over these normally arid countries.  The added heat also strengthens and alters the path of the jet stream, affecting weather patterns worldwide.  In North America, this typically means the jet stream splits in the North Pacific, diverting storms toward the Yukon and Northwest Territories, while leaving most of Southern Canada with a milder and drier-than-normal winter.

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Reference: El Nino Fact Sheet - Environment Canada

During the 1997 - 1998, scientists tracked the strongest El Niņo in a century and a half.  For most of that winter Canadians found respite from winter cold and a reduction in home heating costs.

El Niņo disrupted weather patterns in many regions of the world and was usually blamed for droughts, torrential rains, sweltering heat and severe crop failures.  Scientists called the 1997 - 1998 El Niņo Climate event of the century".

In Canada, southern regions experienced a warmer winter with less rain and snow that usual, while the extreme northeast region had below normal winter temperatures.

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Reference: El Nino Fact Sheet - Environment Canada

  • Reduced amounts of rain and snowfall, combined with higher temperatures, brought lower home heating bills for most of Canada.  The extreme East Arctic was colder than normal.

  • Winnipeg recorded its second warmest December in 120 years.  In Edmonton, El Nino-related warmth also helped to produce a record mean December temperature of 2.4 C.

  • Precipitation on the prairies was well below below normal, as most grain- and central regions received on-half tone-quarter their normal amounts during November and December.

  • Fanned by strong winds, a mid-December grass fire of Southern Alberta in the Porcupine Hills raged out of control across the parched prairie, burning more than 2000 square kilometers of farmland and six houses, destroying 100 head of cattle, and burning hundreds of kilometers of fencing and winter hay supplies for many farmers.

  • A record warm February helped to produce the warmest 1997 - 1998  winter in 66 years in Southern Ontario.  With temperatures 6 C, above normal, February 1998 was the warmest in over 100 years of record keeping across Southern Ontario.  The city of Toronto had the warmest February on record since 1840.  The lack of snow during the month was unprecedented; areas east of the Ottawa Valley remained virtually snow-free throughout most of February.

  • Because of the mild December, the ice wine industry reported losses in the $10 - $15 million range.

  • Canada's worst ice storm hit central and eastern portions of the country during the first week of January, bringing 6 continuous days of freezing rain that totaled 90mm.  Trees snapped, hydro poles and wires went down and transportation from Eastern Ontario to Prince Edward Island was halted.  Although ice storms in Eastern Canada are not frequent during El Niņo winters, it is believed El Niņo played a significant role insetting the stage for prolonged periods of freezing rain.

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Reference: El Nino Fact Sheet - Environment Canada

During the fall of 1997 El Niņo showed signs of being the strongest since extensive seal surface temperature observations began in the earlier half of this century.  Its strength surpassed the 1982 -1983 event, which at the time was dubbed "the El Niņo of the century"

Surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Ecuador and Peru rose to about 5 C above normal, the highest observed in the last 50 years.  These warm waters occupied an area of about 14 million square km - about 1 1/2 times the size of Canada.  At the same time, sea surface temperatures off Canada's Pacific coast averaged about 2 to 3 C above normal.  Such strong El Niņo conditions presented climatologists  with the best opportunity to produce reliable seasonal predictions.

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Reference: El Nino Fact Sheet - Environment Canada

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