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El Niño, La Niña & ENSO

Our atmosphere is constantly changing. The state of the atmosphere and how it changes is what we call weather. The immense ocean of air in which we live has the ability to reconfigure itself quickly on many different scales; this serves as a source of wonder, pleasure, vexation and danger.

Because weather can influence our lives so greatly, it has become necessary to make attempts to accurately predict it. During the last century weather prediction grew from little more than an art into a well-recognized discipline within the now-robust science of meteorology (the study of the atmosphere and its components). Prediction, by its very nature, is less than perfect; because of this imperfection and the significant effects weather exerts on our daily lives, the weatherman has become fodder for jokesters, skeptics and complainers. During my tenure as U.S. Air Force meteorologist and weather forecaster, our jovial response to the critics became, “Our forecast is guaranteed. If it fails for any reason, we’ll give you a new one.”

The quality of weather prediction has improved dramatically over the last 30 years. Numerical models, satellite imagery, doppler radar and other state-of-the-art technologies have revolutionized the field of meteorology. Nearly gone is the moniker of weatherman, in great part because many of today’s meteorologists are women. Forecasting the weather is still far from perfect, but great strides have been made — especially in the arenas of severe storm prediction and tropical meteorology. As accuracy has improved, respect has grown for meteorologists and their role as protectors of the public interest.

Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.  Original article published prior to 13 April 2003, updated 29 March 2004.

Follow links to the right to learn more about the Pacific Ocean climatological phenomena known as El Niño, La Niña and the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and how these periodic weather and oceanic events influence global climate. At the left margin, Related Links address topics of interest pertaining to oceans and climate, tropical meteorology and global warming. View the Weather & Meteorology SiteMap for a complete list of meteorology and weather-related topics.

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