What’s The Skinny On El Nino?

El Nino

Ever since climate change became something that could be ignored no longer, El Nino has been something we have been hearing more and more of. Folks that have no clue what in the blue blazes is an El Nino when it is at home, have been throwing it out in conversations, so much so it has become the thing to pin everything that’s wrong with the world currently on.

What really is an El Nino? At its simplest, El Nino is a complex weather pattern particular to the Pacific Ocean, that is a result of the variations in the ocean temperatures. El Nino also has a sister pattern called La Nina, which is a cold phase of the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) cycle, while El Nino is the warm phase. These patterns last for periods of around 9 – 12 months on average and occur every two to seven years.

Despite the fact that everything, right from Maggi’s fall from grace to Chennai resembling Cherrapunji is blamed on El Nino, what are all the ills that can rightfully placed at ENSO’s feet?

  1.  In South America, especially Peru and Ecuador, every three years or so, the ‘El Nino effect’ occurs, which is rather disastrous to the fishing economy. Not enough fishes are available, to the detriment of the fishermen and the animals that feed on the fish. Another result is torrential rainfall in the costal areas.
  2. Similarly, in California, where the havoc caused by the El Nino effect results in the decrease of the number of fish, resulting in collapse of fisheries and the animals that rely on the fish, such as seals, to die of starvation. The climatic conditions also cause the rise of storms and heavy downpour.
  3. On a positive note, there are fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic during the El Nino years; milder winters in western Canada and NW USA and above average rainfall in the Florida region.
  4. In India, El Nino is said to have caused the below normal monsoon in Northern and Central India for the past two years. “This is a typical El Nino feature where northwest India and central India will receive less rainfall”, said the head of the Indian Meterological Dept’s Long Range Forecast department.
  5. In fact, this year the El Nino is supposed to “cause havoc on the world”, according to this cheering information from the New Scientist.

Time to batten down the hatches, I say.


A Case Of Too Much All Around

Spectacular photography by Neetesh Kumar

Spectacular photography by Neetesh Kumar


The past couple of weeks have been vastly interesting ones in Chennai for many reasons. For one, the monsoon set in and how! We had rains and more rains and pretty soon, way more than we knew what to do with.

Which brings us to the second reason: how prepared are we for Nature’s bounty?

Arguably, this season’s rains were not the norm – but, we can never exactly gauge what Nature is going to do, right? Shouldn’t we be in a situation to deal with the excess windfall and utilise it for our times of need? In an ideal world, yes, but we are living in one far from it. So, the waters came in, flooded us out and left us in dire straits. As if this is not dismal enough a situation, imagine how we are going to be feeling when summer comes around and we are left with no potable water, as with every year.

So, what was the reason for the disastrous few days? Too much rain? Cyclone in the offing? Poor urban planning? El Nino? All of the above?

The rains threw up plenty of cracks in the way we do things down South, both good and bad. While Good Samaritans that threw open their homes and hearts to help their fellowmen were definitely the ‘good’ part of it, the ‘bad’ came in the form of just how badly planned our city is to handle such disasters. A truly global city would have been prepared to handle this by clearing out the storm water drains in advance and storing the excess water for future times of need. Instead, the poorly laid roads got washed away in the deluge, leaving behind huge potholes everywhere. These proved to be even more hazardous for the motorists as one didn’t know if the water in the roads was the same depth everywhere or if there was a massive dip in the middle.

Then there’s the plight of people in the outlying areas, where poor urban planning was thrown in spotlight. In supposedly upmarket areas of the OMR, where the bulk of the construction work is happening, lack of sewage solutions meant even the poshest of developments got flooded and people evacuated. By boats! Elsewhere, thanks to the decimation of their own living areas, the reptiles of the neighbourhood took refuge in people’s homes, which are most likely where their homes used to be. Unnerving sight, all right!

I wonder what the cost of the loss of productivity for these days is, to the government. As well as the money that needs to be spent in setting the city right.

There’s only so much we can pay – messing with Nature and then paying the price later on before it becomes too much, too late.