El Niño For Dummies

frank quirarteMaverick’s. Photo: Frank Quirarte

Like black ice, splitting the check and unplanned pregnancies, scientists make things complicated. Instead of simple language, they use cryptic jargon and obscure acronyms to explain the happenings in their respective fields. It’s just so dense and easy to ignore. But some things we shouldn’t ignore. Like El Niño, for example. You’ve probably heard that it’s happening right now. But do you know why? And do you know how it will affect your surfing life for the next eight months? In the likely event you answered “no” to one of those questions, we’re here to shed a little light, without so much as a whisper of MJO, ENSO, SST and ±.

Normal Year VS El Niño Year

Wind (in equatorial Pacific)
Normal: Blows from Peru toward Asia
El Niño: Calms, or switches and moves from Asia toward Peru

Water Temperature (in equatorial Pacific)
Normal: Warm near Asia. Cold near Peru
El Niño: Warm near Peru. Cooler near Asia

High Pressure (few storms)
Normal: Sits over cool water near Peru
El Niño: Builds over Asian waters

Low Pressure (more storms)
Normal: Near Asia
El Niño: Near Peru

Jet Stream
Normal: Steers storms into the Pacific Northwest
El Niño: Steers storms into California

Think getting into Pipe Masters gave Landon McNamara a confidence boost? We do.Pipe might look like this in the coming winter. Or like a mix of oversized swell with wind and rain/actual hell. Landon McNamara Photo: Brent Bielmann

Basically, the normal Pacific weather patterns flip-flop, causing more storms, wind and rain in the eastern Pacific (near Peru). But the real question! How does this impact us as surfers? For the answer, we talked to our boy Nathan Cool, surf forecaster over at SwellWatch. While he didn’t get too sciency on us, in the spirit of clarity, we simplified it even further.

Summer
West Coast: More hurricane swells. Fewer southern hemis. Warmer local waters. (Find a spot that likes shorter interval south swells.)
East Coast: Fewer hurricanes. (Resist the SUP. Consider a trip to Baja.)
Hawaii: Fewer southern hemis. (Find a spot that likes wind swell.)

Winter
Pacific Northwest: Lots of swell, less wind and rain. (Get it while it lasts.)
California: Warmer water and more swell, but also more wind and rain. (Find a spot that likes south winds.)
East Coast: No significant surf impact.
Hawaii: Lots of swell, wind and rain. (Find a spot that’s well protected.)

Still confused? We trust the below video will clear things up.

—Taylor Paul