I have long been a fan of the Welsh band Super Furry Animals. I remember about 9 0r 10 years ago, they released a song which was pretty atypical of their previous efforts, with a steel drum band prominent in the track instead of the usual guitars, samples, keyboard etc. At the time, the lead singer of the group, Gruff Rhys, spoke about the reason for the lyrics and the music:-
"That's inspired by weather phenomena on weather channels. The weather was headline news quite often last year (1998) and I don't remember the weather being on the news so much before...because of the subject matter and the El Niño phenomenon, I tried the calypso beat. It could've been a rock song, I'm hoping someone's gonna make a rock version of it."
Every time I have covered El Nino since I began my teaching career, I always think of the song 'Northern Lites'. The lyrics link El Nino to strange phenomena like forest fires, monsoon events and shifts in climate patterns along coasts. They also accurately reflect the difficulties I find in teaching the topic:-
'You're turning every modern theory on its head'
In other words, the causes of El Nino are pretty unclear, and although they are generally associated with the slackening of the trade winds, El Nino events are difficult to predict accurately. The general ideas that I have about El Nino is that for some reason, trade winds slacken or change direction, forcing warm water normally found in the western pacific east. This has a couple of effects. The warm waters bring heavy rain eastwards, and can cause devastating floods in South America. The warm water can also seriously disrupt economic activity, as it kind of short circuits the cold current which runs the coast of Peru and usually provides excellent fishing grounds. On the other hand, the Western Pacific can often experience drought conditions as a result of the eastward movement of the warm water. This has in the past been attributed as the cause of serious bush fires in Australia. I have tried to locate a couple of links which you might find useful. Much of the web material is very scientific, but the BBC provide a basic summary of El Nino and La Nina (the result of strengthened trade winds). There is also an El Nino theme page here, thanks to Tom Biebrach for this via sln.