El Niño and La Niña: Our Closest Analogue for Seasons?

Seasons are one of the primary forces which shape Stillness society–lore is centered on surviving them, geomests in the universities debate the history and classification of them, and the worth of individuals is measured by their utility in the event of them. The books in the Broken Earth trilogy each have a whole appendix dedicated to the Seasons in the back. When Antimony shares with Nassun the prospect of catching the moon and “bringing it back into stable orbit and magical alignment” (Obelisk Gate 172), Essun has a difficult time processing the implications:

“The End of the Seasons. It sounds…unimaginable. There have always been Seasons. Except now you know that isn’t true.”

While Essun finds it difficult to picture her world without seasons, readers may find it equally difficult to picture our world with them. While looking around NOAA’s website, I came across some articles on El Niño and La Niña, and was instantly transported back to the AP Environmental Science class I took junior year of high school. Defined as “complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific,” these two phenomena have implications for weather across the globe. Climate scientists dedicate extensive research to predicting El Niño and La Niña using the “Oceanic Niño Index (ONI)” based on “sub-surface temperature departures” in the Equatorial Pacific.

In North America, El Niño causes “warmer-than-average temperatures…over the western and northern United States,” “wetter-than-average conditions…over portions of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida,” and “drier-than-average conditions…in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest” (NOAA Ocean Service). La Niña entails “periods of below-average sea surface temperatures across the east-central Equatorial Pacific,” followed by effects opposite those of El Niño. While these may not sound too dramatic, the results can include extreme weather, diminished food production, water shortages, and various health risks. While not as rare as Jemisin’s Seasons, El Niño and La Niña are somewhat infrequent, occurring every two to seven years, and lasting nine to twelve months. Given this sporadic and damaging nature, it seems these phenomena may be the closest our world gets to seasons…for now–who knows what lies in store as human-driven climate change grows more severe.

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