Scientists aim to translate El Niño data into mitigation efforts


  • Randy Showstack


With sophisticated forecasting models tracking the strength and potential impact of the current El Niño stirring in the Pacific, many scientists say the next pressing challenge is to warn the public about potentially disruptive weather patterns. Scientists say they hope that the three to six month lead time provided by advanced monitoring systems will translate into quick dissemination of the information and prompt action by end users—whether they be countries, states, relief agencies, private industry, or individuals affected by El Niño—to mitigate and prepare for potential disasters. The economic and social benefits of providing accurate advance warning are high. Scientists estimate the benefit-cost ratio of paying for forecasting and for a public education program at anywhere from 10:1 up to 300:1. Some say that a perfect prediction season could save the U.S. alone about $1–2 billion per year during El Niño events. The major El Niño of 1982 and 1983, which occurred before forecasting techniques had been honed, caused an estimated $8 billion in destruction worldwide, with nearly $2 billion in losses in the United States.