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July-August 2016

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Weather Front

El Niño Forecasters Say Sayonara to Critical Data Buoys

Japan is turning off the lights on critical monitoring buoys, leaving El Niño forecasters in the dark. Citing budget cuts, the country has shut down seven of its 15 moored ocean monitoring buoys and has plans to shut down another four to five by next year. Those buoys are part of the Tropical Atmospheric Ocean (TAO) array, a string of 70 buoys aligned near the equator stretching from South America to the waters north of New Guinea. The United States and Japan have jointly maintained the array since 2000 to provide critical wind, air, and water temperature data.

Winds and the eastward progression of warm water from the western Pacific are key indicators of a forming El Niño. The loss of data in that region could seriously hinder El Niño forecasts.       

KIMBRA CUTLIP is a freelance writer and former assistant editor for Weatherwise.

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