Web edition: February 8, 2013
Scientists have been trying to understand what triggers some particularly widespread and dramatic changes to weather, such as droughts and major flooding. These changes may last a year or more and play out broadly across much of the planet. Increasingly, events known as El Niño and La Niña appear to play a major role. The terms mean the little boy and little girl (in Spanish).
Occasionally, as in 1998, the two events happen back-to-back. That time, when these climate kids were through, as much as 10 percent of the world's coral had died from heat stress.
In recent years, the average temperature of the planet has been climbing, something known as global warming. Will that heat alter the arrival or intensity of weather extremes associated with the "kids"?That is something that scientists are probing as they seek to better understand Earth’s changing climate.