About every two to seven years, the westward-blowing Pacific trade winds diminish. Without these winds, warm water piles up off the coast of Peru instead of the coast of Indonesia. Rainfall and weather patterns change, first in the Pacific and eventually globally, signally that an El Niño has arrived. Seemingly unconnected events - floods in California, drought in Africa, fewer hurricanes in the Caribbean - can be directly or indirectly linked to El Niño.
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History has created El Niño's Powerful Reach, a compelling new exhibit that explores the El Niño phenomenon and puts it into historical and cultural context. The exhibit draws on cutting edge space-based observations being conducted at the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and scientific research being conducted within the Smithsonian and other educational institutions around the globe. El Niño's Powerful Reach builds a better understanding of the dynamic interrelationships of Earth's four components - land, air, water, and life - and demonstrates how their effects are felt around the globe.
Below are a few educational resources that bring similar topics or themes into the classroom.
NOVA Teachers - Chasing El Niño - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachers/programs/2512_elnino.html
El Niño Education References - http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/enso/enso.education.html
GLOBE El Niño/La Niña School Project - http://www.globe.gov/fsl/html/templ.cgi?ElNinoIntro&lang=en&nav=1