NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the strong El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, wreaking havoc around the world, shows no sign of weakening.
The Pasadena lab said Tuesday that a Dec. 27 image of ocean warming produced by data from its Jason-2 satellite is strikingly similar to one from December 1997, the worst El Niño on record. During that event, the "Great Ice Storm of January 1998 crippled northern New England while across the southern United States, a steady convoy of storms slammed most of California, the Southwest and drenched Texas.
The spacecraft measures sea surface heights, which indicate a thick layer of warm water when they are higher than normal.
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The latest image and the 1997 image both show unusually high sea surface heights along the equator in the central and eastern Pacific.
El Niños are linked to dramatic alteration of weather around the world. This year's El Niño has already caused extreme weather conditions for much of the U.S., contributing to a balmy Christmas along the East Coast, and deadly storms and historic flooding in the south and midwest.
The biggest effects of El Niños in the U.S. are expected to appear in early 2016. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts "several months of relatively cool and wet conditions across the southern United States, and relatively warm and dry conditions over the northern United States," NASA said.