The global climate during 1997 was affected by both extremes of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with weak Pacific cold episode conditions prevailing during January and February, and one of the strongest Pacific warm episodes (El Niño) in the historical record prevailing during the remainder of the year. This warm episode contributed to major regional rainfall and temperature anomalies over large portions of the Tropics and extratropics, which were generally consistent with those observed during past warm episodes. In many regions, these anomalies were opposite to those observed during 1996 and early 1997 in association with Pacific cold episode conditions.
Some of the most dramatic El Niño impacts during 1997 were observed in the Tropics, where anomalous convection was evident across the entire Pacific and throughout most major monsoon regions of the world. Tropical regions most affected by excessive El Niño–related rainfall during the year included 1) the eastern half of the tropical Pacific, where extremely heavy rainfall and strong convective activity covered the region from April through December; 2) equatorial eastern Africa, where excessive rainfall during October–December led to widespread flooding and massive property damage; 3) Chile, where a highly amplified and extended South Pacific jet stream brought increased storminess and above-normal rainfall during the winter and spring; 4) southeastern South America, where these same storms produced above-normal rainfall during June–December; and 5) Ecuador and northern Peru, which began receiving excessive rainfall totals in November and December as deep tropical convection spread eastward across the extreme eastern Pacific.
In contrast, El Niño-–elated rainfall deficits during 1997 included 1) Indonesia, where significantly below-normal rainfall from June through December resulted in extreme drought and contributed to uncontrolled wildfires; 2) New Guinea, where drought contributed to large-scale food shortages leading to an outbreak of malnutrition; 3) the Amazon Basin, which received below-normal rainfall during June–December in association with substantially reduced tropical convection throughout the region; 4) the tropical Atlantic, which experienced drier than normal conditions during July–December; and 5) central America and the Caribbean Sea, which experienced below-normal rainfall during March–December.
The El Niño also contributed to a decrease in tropical storm and hurricane activity over the North Atlantic during August–November, and to an expanded area of conditions favorable for tropical cyclone and hurricane formation over the eastern North Pacific. These conditions are in marked contrast to both the 1995 and 1996 hurricane seasons, in which significantly above-normal tropical cyclone activity was observed over the North Atlantic and suppressed activity prevailed across the eastern North Pacific.
Other regional aspects of the short-term climate during 1997 included 1) wetter than average 1996/97 rainy seasons in both northeastern Australia and southern Africa in association with a continuation of weak cold episode conditions into early 1997; 2) below-normal rainfall and drought in southeastern Australia from October 1996 to December 1997 following very wet conditions in this region during most of 1996; 3) widespread flooding in the Red River Valley of the north-central United States during April following an abnormally cold and snowy winter; 4) floods in central Europe during July following several consecutive months of above-normal rainfall; 5) near-record to record rainfall in southeastern Asia during June–August in association with an abnormally weak upper-level monsoon ridge; and 6) near-normal rainfall across India during the Indian monsoon season (June–September) despite the weakened monsoon ridge.