El Niňo Is Good News For Israel


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El Niňo, the periodic abnormal warming of surface water in the eastern equatorial Pacific, has long been notorious for the devastation it often inflicts on South America. But now it appears that its effects reach as far as the Middle East -- and surprisingly, they may actually be positive.

By studying tree rings, satellite cloud images and rain water, an Israeli research team led by the Weizmann Institute's Dr. Dan Yakir has discovered a striking correlation between El Niňo and rainfall in central Israel over the past 20 years: between 1975 and 1995, winters with above-average rainfall coincided with El Niňo events, while relatively dry winters coincided with below-average ocean surface temperature in the eastern equatorial Pacific. The researchers also found that El Niňo-associated variations in Israel's rainfall were significant for local plant growth.

Going back in history, the scientists noted that no El Niňo events were recorded during the decade-long drought that affected Israel in the 1930s. "And even further back in time, could it be that Pharaoh's seven bad years reflected an ancient period devoid of El Niňo events?" asks Dr. Yakir, referring to the major famine recounted in the Bible's book of Genesis.

If these findings are confirmed, it may be possible to take advantage of El Niňo forecasts to predict rain patterns in Israel more than a year in advance, which would be a great boon to Israel's water management and agriculture.