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Definition of EL NIÑO
: an irregularly recurring flow of unusually warm surface waters from the Pacific Ocean toward and along the western coast of South America that prevents upwelling of nutrient-rich cold deep water and that disrupts typical regional and global weather patterns — compare la niña
Spanish, literally, the child (i.e., the Christ child); from the appearance of the flow at the Christmas season
First Known Use: 1896
In oceanography and climatology, the appearance, every few years, of unusually warm surface waters of the Pacific Ocean along the tropical western coast of South America. It affects fishing, agriculture, and local weather from Ecuador to Chile and can cause global climatic anomalies in the equatorial Pacific, Asia, and North America. The name (Spanish for the Christ Child) was originally used by 19th-century Peruvian fishermen to describe the annual flow of warm equatorial waters southward around Christmastime. The term is now used for an intense ocean warming that stretches from the western Pacific to South America. This anomalous occurrence is caused by an unusual weakening of the normally westward-blowing trade winds, which in turn allows warm surface waters to spread eastward. See alsoLa Niña.