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Fox News Weather Center

How Does El Niño Shape Weather Across the Globe?

One of the bigger players in shaping the world's weather is a force called El Niño.

It is a phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, in which water temperatures of the central and equatorial Pacific Ocean are above normal.

Computer models predict ocean currents, which allow warm water to pool in certain areas of the ocean.

"When this pooling of warm water extends along the equator from the South America coast on west through the international date line for more than three consecutive months, we have an El Niño," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dale Mohler said.

The opposite effect of cooler water over a similar time period is known as La Niña.

While the latest rendition of El Niño has not officially started, some impacts have been noted globally.

"Most notable is the drought in Malaysia and the struggling monsoon in India," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls said.

Some of the other potential impacts from El Niño include wetter-than-normal weather along the United States Gulf Coast, mainly in the late fall and winter, and a reduced hurricane season in the Atlantic.

"Western Canada tends to have mild winters during an El Niño. Central America is dry and warm in the summer months. Drought intensifies over Indonesia and northeast Australia. Eastern South Africa tends to be dry and warm," Mohler said.

"No El Niño is created equal. The stronger the El Niño is the greater the impact," he said. "Strong El Niños also tend to last longer, sometimes as long as two years. Timing of where the impact begins seems to be random from year to year."

El Niño is not expected to develop until the fall so there may not be many true impacts until late-summer or fall in the U.S.

"The southern tier of the U.S. is probably this most likely area to feel the impacts first," Nicholls said. "This year's El Niño looks to be weak to at best, moderate, so we may not see textbook El Niño said effects in the U.S. In fact, the [AccuWeather] Long-Range Team feels other factors than El Niño may play a bigger part in the pattern this fall and winter."

Several global agencies monitor the oceans along with NOAA, including Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, Japanese Meteorological Agency and several others, issuing summaries on the progress of ENSO on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, Nicholls said.

"Knowing the state of the Pacific Ocean and the forecast of El Niño can help countries prepare for possible negative impacts from El Niño/La Niña such as droughts or flooding," he said.

The information is also used by farming and other industries.

"Commodities such as grains should be conserved where drought is expected in the coming year," Mohler said. "The southern Plains typically have wet falls and winters during an El Niño, so I would expect increased wheat acreage planted this fall over Texas and Oklahoma. Chain stores such as Lowes and Home Depot will stock less generators and plywood in their East Coast and Gulf Coast stores as the hurricane risk this fall is less."