El Niño

El Ni·​ño | \ el-ˈnē-nyō How to pronounce El Niño (audio) \
plural El Niños

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

Did You Know?

Each year around Christmas time, a warm equatorial current flows southward along the coast of Peru. In the 19th century, Peruvian fisherman named that annual current "El Niño" in honor of the Christ child (el niño means "the child" in Spanish). Later, when scientists noted that in some years this warm current flow is more intense than usual, they adopted the name and applied it to that more potent but erratic climatic phenomenon. Now El Niño is used almost exclusively for the severe episodes rather than for the annual ones to which it was originally applied.

First Known Use of El Niño

1896, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for El Niño

Spanish, literally, the child (i.e., the Christ child); from the appearance of the flow at the Christmas season

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about El Niño

Time Traveler for El Niño

Time Traveler

The first known use of El Niño was in 1896

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about El Niño

Statistics for El Niño

Cite this Entry

“El Niño.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/El%20Ni%C3%B1o. Accessed 12 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for El Niño

El Niño


English Language Learners Definition of El Niño

: a flow of unusually warm water along the western coast of South America that causes many changes in weather in other places (such as a lot of rain in areas that are usually dry)

Comments on El Niño

What made you want to look up El Niño? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu jedi training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!