And how it got its name.
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El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly in the eastern tropical Pacific every two to seven years. When the trade winds that usually blow from east to west weaken, sea surface temperatures start rising, setting off a chain of atmospheric impacts.
El Niños can be strong or weak. Strong events can temporarily disrupt weather patterns around the world, typically making certain regions wetter (Peru or California, say) and others drier (Southeast Asia). Some countries suffer major damage as a result.
El Niños also transfer heat stored in the deeper layers of the ocean to the surface. When combined with global warming, that can lead to record hot years, as in 1998.
Countries across the globe will have to brace themselves as this event peaks this winter and lasts through the spring. El Niño has already triggered longer droughts in Indonesia, enabling massive man-made peatland fires to rage out of control, creating toxic haze that has spread as far as Singapore. Warmer ocean temperatures have also caused a major coral bleaching event, harming reefs around the world.
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