Earth's Journal

Atmosphere Journal Entry

El Niño Quiets Atlantic Hurricanes (November 6, 2009)

El Nino

El Niño is marked by warmer water in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean around the equator, shown in red and yellow on this false-color satellite image. NOAA.

This year's Atlantic hurricane season has been calmer than usual. That's great news for people in the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, which took a beating from strong storms in 2008. Meteorologists say this year's El Niño gets much of the credit. El Niño is a climate event marked by warmer than normal ocean temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean along the equator. Although linked to stronger storms in the Pacific, El Niño quiets Atlantic hurricanes by increasing wind shear over the Atlantic Ocean. Strong vertical winds rip storms apart before they can get too big.

There have been nine named Atlantic storms with winds of at least 39 mph (62 km/h) this year, including three hurricanes with winds over 74 mph (118 km/h), Bill, Fred, and Ida, which slammed Nicaragua this week. Before the start of hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted 14 named storms, including 4 to 7 hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season officially ends November 30th.

Last year was a different story. The United States was hammered by Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, and Hurricane Ike. At one point, four strong storms swirled in the Atlantic at the same time.