WASHINGTON – Warming water temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific last month may indicate the start of a new El Nino (search).
El Nino, which can affect weather conditions around the world, is often first seen as increased sea surface temperatures in the Pacific (search) along with changes in wind patterns.
Sea surface temperatures rose nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit above normal in July, with even higher readings to the east, the National Weather Service's (search) Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday.
The temperature increases, the agency said, "indicate the possible early stages of a warm episode."
The report noted that the normal easterly winds in mid-June through early July weakened in many areas of the equatorial Pacific.
"At this time it is not clear what, if any, impacts this event will have on ocean temperatures in the classical El Nino region along the west coast of South America," the agency said.
El Ninos were first observed along the South American coast and named by fishermen noticing a decline in their catch.
As researchers studied the phenomenon, they found that El Nino -- which combines changes in temperature, wind and air pressure over the Pacific -- can change the flow of the atmosphere. El Nino effects range from drought in Indonesia, Australia and Africa, to storms in California and floods elsewhere.
The 1997 El Nino caused an estimated $20 billion in damage worldwide.