Historical El Nino Events

This prints onto 3 A4 pages.
Climate historians, such as William Quinn, are piecing together from historical documents (ships' logbooks, explorers’ journals, missionaries’ diaries, port-authority records, naval reports as well as historical accounts of events in areas known to be affected by El Nino/La Nina from across the world) dates when likely past El Nino events occurred. Other researchers are also using other methods based on geological, archaeological field-work etc.

Very likely El Nino events from history have so far been identified for:

16th Century: 1500, 1525-26, 1531-32, 1535, 1539-41, 1544, 1546-47, 1552-53, 1558-61, 1565, 1567-68, 1574, 1578-79, 1581-82, 1585, 1587-89, and 1596.

17th Century:
1600-01, 1604, 1607-08, 1618-19, 1621, 1624, 1630-31, 1635, 1641, 1647, 1650, 1652, 1655, 1661, 1671, 1681, 1683-84, 1687-88, 1692, 1694-95 and 1697.

18th Century:
1701, 1703-04, 1707-09, 1713-14, 1715-16, 1718, 1720, 1723, 1725, 1728, 1731, 1734, 1734, 1737, 1744, 1747-48, 1751, 1754-55, 1761-62, 1765-66, 1768-70, 1772-73, 1776-78, 1782-84, 1785-86, 1790-93, 1794-97 and 1799.

19th Century:
1802-04, 1806-07, 1810, 1812, 1814, 1817, 1819, 1821, 1824-25, 1827-28, 1830, 1832-33, 1835-36, 1837-39, 1844-46, 1850, 1852-53, 1857-59, 1860, 1862, 1864, 1865-66, 1867-69, 1977-78, 1880, 1865, 1888-89, 1891, 1896-97 and 1899-1900.

Possible 19th Century La Nina events have been identified in: 1872-74, 1875-76, 1879-80, 1886 87, 1889-90 and 1892-93.

Principle Source for the above: El Nino. R. Couper Johnston. Hodder & Stoughton. 2000.

NB: There are other lists by other researchers for historic El Nino/La Nina events. I make no claim that the above is definitive. Some dates may have widespread consensus, others may not have. M. Glantz's book Currents of Change has a short discussion on this, on p216.
Links to some other lists can be found here.

El Nino: 20th Century: 1902-1903 1905-1906 1911-1912 1914-1915 1918-1919 1923-1924 1925-1926 1930-1931 1932-1933 1939-1940 1941-1942 1951-1952 1953-1954 1957-1958 1965-1966 1969-1970 1972-1973 1976-1977 1982-1983 1986-1987 1991-1992 1994-1995 and 1997-1998.

La Nina: 20th Century:  1904-1905 1909-1910 1910-1911 1915-1916 1917-1918 1924-1925 1928-1929 1938-1939 1950-1951 1954-1956 1956-1957 1964-1965 1970-1971 1971-1972 1973-1974 1975-1976 1984-1985 1988-1989 1995-1996 March 1998-early 2000.
El Nino: 21st Century: 2002-2003, 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. July 2009-May 2010

La Nina: 21st Century: Late 2000-early 2001. 2007-2008. 2008-April 2009. July 2010 - June 2011. Sept 2011 > current

See also NOAA Climate Prediction Centre page of SSTs and El Nino/La Nina dates from 1950 onwards.

El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion. A regularly updated forecast/progress report of current El Nino and La Nina staus.

Note 1: Reconstructing distinct past ENSO events such as these may also help fill in the gaps in our knowledge as to what may have happened at other times in the past. El Nino/La Nina events are irregular and variable; so it will be difficult to predict what the future will bring - but it might provide a few hints. Just as no two snowflakes are exactly the same, yet are still recognizably snowflakes, so no two El Nino or La Nina events are exactly the same. They can vary according to sea temperature, the size of ocean area affected, their duration, how far their disruptive effect on airstreams and precipitation patterns extend and so on. Media reports today often attempt to categorise such events as being either 'weak' or 'strong'.

There are now many other attempts to locate in time and place in history the effects of El Nino/La Nina. e.g. Historical Droughts in Central Mexico and Their Relation with El Nino. B. Mendoza et al. Journal of Applied Meteorology.  American Meteorological Society). Volume 44. May 2005.

Note 2: Although the above lists show dates in years, more precise dating requires the month also. For example the 1995-96 La Nina began in September `95 and ended in March `96. There was only a two month interval between two La Nina events that occurred between 1973 and 1976. (June `73 to June `74 and Sept. `74 to April `76.)

Note 3: Although El Nino/La Nina events are often considered to have identifiable start and end points, ENSO is an ongoing process. ENSO neutral conditions (the sea conditions between El Nino/La Nina events) are also part of ENSO ~ ENSO is constantly ongoing.

Note 4: I believe it possible to identify El Ninos events prior to the 16th Century. I have noted some in the relevant pages on this site where I (and others) believe there is a strong likelihood. Those of 1100 AD and 1450 AD in particular.

To find out more about ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) and El Nino and La Nina visit the following:

Wikipedia ENSO

Max Plank Institute for Meteorology El Nino page

El Nino background

NOAA El Nino page

Weather Online El Nino page

BBC Weather El Nino page

Impacts of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation on the Pacific Northwest (1998 - nice overview of ENSO's discovery.)

Impacts of warm and cold (El Nino/La Nina) ENSO episodes

Understanding ENSO and Forecasting Drought

US Dept. of Commerce Site on ENSO

ENSO Monitor

Further reading - suggestions A Web page of suggestions

Recommended Books
Currents of Change: Impacts of El Nino and La Nina on Climate and Society
. M. Glantz. CUP. 2nd edition. 2001.
A good, if technical, introduction to the science of ENSO.

El Nino. The Weather Phenomenon That Changed The World. R. Couper Johnston. Hodder & Stoughton. 2000.

Excellent at combining history and science with a vivid, clear writing style; Couper Johnston should write more. Arranged thematically, so it jumps around in time and place. If you read this site's sections on Pre Columbian Central and South America it will help place events in this book into a chronological narrative.

El Nino. Unlocking the Secrets Of The Master Weather Maker. J. Nash. Warner books. 2002.

Excellent account of the history of ENSO climate science and the roles key scientists have played. Very good on the relationship between disease and flood/drought episodes.

The Long Summer. B. Fagan. Granta Books. 2004.

The role climate played in human history during the Holocene. Chapter 12 is about the Maya abandonments. Chapter 11 about North American droughts, AD 1 to 1200. Fagan is an archaeologist with the rare gift of being communicate complex ideas and information clearly and entertainingly to the general reader.

Floods, Famines and Emperors: El Nino And The Fate Of Civilisations. B. Fagan. Pimlico. 2000.

Chapters 7, 8 & 9 are on the Peruvian  Moche, the Maya abandonment’s and the Medieval droughts in the American south west. Good chapters on both ENSO and the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. M. Davis. Verso Books. 2002.
Controversial, if interesting, study of late 19th Century famines in India and China that resulted in tens of millions of deaths. Davis lays responsibility at the convergence "of an imperial [British] arrogance and natural incident". It may be worth reading some of the informed reviews of this book on Amazon alongside Davis's book.

El Nino and the Southern Oscillation. A. J. Clarke. Academic Press. 2008.
Highly technical book on equatorial ocean and atmospheric dynamics of ENSO. Assumes a working knowledge of the equations of fluid mechanics on a rotating earth, but emphasizes simple physical explanations of them. Chapters 1-2 cover the history of ENSO, Chapters 3-5 consider relevant equatorial ocean dynamics, Chapters 6-9 relevant atmospheric dynamics, and Chapters 7-8 the main mechanisms of how the Pacific Ocean and atmosphere couple together to produce ENSO.

El Nino, Catastrophism, and Culture Change in Ancient America. Sandweiss, H. Daniel et al. Harvard University Press. 2009.
This book summarizes research on the nature of El Nino events in the Americas and details specific historic and prehistoric patterns in Peru and elsewhere. By also looking at other catastrophic natural events in the ancient New World, the book illustrates how scientific archaeology can serve climate research.

Climate Variability and the Global Harvest: Impacts of El Nino and Other Oscillations on Agro-Ecosystems. C. Rosenzweig, D. Hillel. OUP USA. 2008.
This book attempts a comprehensive assessment of the impact of climate variability, principally the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), on agricultural systems around the world.

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