British Expat Newsletter:
15 March 2006

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter. Dave’s doing this week’s “This week” for a change…

In this issue

  • This week: El Niño/La Niña – “Nature’s vicious circle”
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

Unless you’ve been living in a nuclear shelter for the last thirty years, the chances are that at some stage you’ll have heard about El Niño, the periodic circulation of strong currents in the eastern Pacific which leads to a build-up of warm water along the western coast of the Americas. This affects the weather not just in California, Mexico and Peru, but worldwide.

What you may not have heard is that El Niño has a sister – La Niña – which behaves more or less as a reverse of the El Niño phenomenon. With La Niña there’s a surge of cool waters, again in the eastern Pacific, which means that the warm waters are all trapped in the western Pacific. When this happens, South and South-East Asia can expect a prolonged and more vigorous monsoon. Elsewhere, hurricanes in the Caribbean are likely to be more violent as there’s no prevailing westerly wind to hold them back.

Anyway, apparently La Niña is on the way this year and is expected to last from May until May next year. In some respects, that may be a good thing; much of the region is suffering from water shortages and could be doing with some topping up. However, as is usually the way with this sort of thing, it’s likely to bring misery for some. The Thai authorities, for instance, have already been warning of increased risk of landslides and flooding, particularly in the North and North-east of the country, though they’re not expecting “major storm-induced rains”. Met offices across the region are likely to be putting out similar warnings in their own countries – though of course how well the people respond depends largely on how wealthy and well-informed their society is.

Perhaps the most striking thing about all this is that we DO have the means to make predictions like this. El Niño and La Niña aren’t new phenomena – there are records of them going back to at least the eighteenth century, although they do seem to have become more powerful in their effects in the last few decades. But apart from a very vague and generalised observation that they tend to happen about every ten or eleven years, there’s been no telling exactly when and how long they’re likely to last.

The sea change (sorry) has come through the development of climate modelling using supercomputers. Earlier weather prediction was based largely on statistics – simply observing the data and calculating (on the basis of past observations) what the weather was most likely to be like. The advent of computers has led to attempts to run climate models – taking the earth’s geography, overlaying the physical laws governing the weather, feeding in observed data and predicting how events will unfold. But it’s only been in the last ten years or so that the models have become more accurate than the statistical method.

Now, the explosive development of both telecommunications and home computers means that people at home can give over their spare computing capacity to help with climate modelling. The BBC are collaborating with Oxford University for the world’s largest climate experiment, using distributed computing – data processed by thousands of PCs but managed by one central computer – and the Met Office’s climate model, to try to predict the likely development of the Earth’s climate up to the year 2080. If just 10,000 people sign up, the combined computing power will be faster than the world’s largest supercomputers! All very timely if, as virtually all scientists now agree, a major shift in the Earth’s climate is on the cards.

So if you use a Pentium 4 PC (sorry, Mac users) and are running Windows XP, Windows 2000 or most versions of Linux, please visit the BBC’s website and consider joining in!

Do you have anything to say about this topic, or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us about it?

Virtual Snacks

It’ll come as no surprise that National Geographic have written extensively about El Niño and La Niña – with a largely US focus, as you’d expect, but still very informatively no matter where you happen to be in the world:
National Geographic: El Niño

You can find loads of colour images of El Niño and La Niña waxing and waning on NASA’s site, together with explanations of what the imagery all shows:
NASA: Colour images of El Niño

And finally, here’s a link to the BBC/Oxford University climate modelling experiment:
BBC: Hot Topics – Climate Change

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • officer royal village idiot
  • electric dildo
  • laaqjfdvlrvpotjq
  • church magazine bloopers
  • bandwidth is not necessary advertising?
  • what is typical of brits
  • how do they move in dominican republic
  • lifestyle and the british one
  • negatives to buying bulgaria [It’s far too large for most people to afford, for starters]
  • yes honesty is going out of style why?
  • get a line through a brick wall logic puzzle
  • waffles facts

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

British Expat Magazine


“Everybody is talking about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”
– Mark Twain, US author (1835-1910)


There was a long drought in Central Africa. The witch doctor had tried all his rainmaking dances, invocations and imprecations, but to no avail.

One of the elders observed that rain was never a problem in England, so why not send the witch doctor to London to learn the secret?

Off the witch doctor went to England. Two weeks later, on his return, the tribe gathered, agog to hear his new-found wisdom.

“Well,” he said, “these crazy men had a big paddock of grass enclosed by a white picket fence. In the middle were two sets of small sticks driven into the ground. Two men, each with a club, stood next to these sticks and waited for a lot of other men to spread themselves all over the paddock. Then two more men, wearing black trousers, long white coats, four sweaters and six hats, came out to keep a close watch on the men with the clubs. Then one man got a red rock and threw it at one of the fellers with a club. AND DOWN CAME THE RAIN!”

This entry was posted in 2006 by Kay McMahon. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

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