Watch El Ninos build side by side: 1997 and 2015

el-ninos-compared.jpgScreen grab.

From the visualization lab at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of more than 100 colleges and universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences. UCAR manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "I was a little shocked just how closely 2015 resembles 1997 visually," says visualization creator Matt Rehme.

The El Niño brewing in the tropical Pacific is on track to become one of the strongest such events in recorded history and may even warm its way past the historic 1997-98 El Niño.

While it's too early to say if the current El Niño will live up to the hype, this new NCAR visualization comparing sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific in 1997 to those in 2015 gives a revealing glimpse into the similarities, and differences, between the two events. Sea surface temperatures are key to gauging the strength of an El Niño, which is marked by warmer-than-average waters.

Even if this year's El Niño goes on to take the title for strongest recorded event, there's no guarantee that the impacts on weather around the world will be the same as they were in 1997-98. Like snowflakes, each El Niño is unique. Still, experts are pondering whether a strong El Niño might ease California's unrelenting drought, cause heatwaves in Australia, cut coffee production in Uganda, and impact the food supply for Peruvian vicuñas.

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Pacific stories on LA Observed:
Bruce Brown, surfing filmmaker of 'The Endless Summer,' dies at 80
John Severson, 83, founder of Surfer magazine
Time for some weather geeking
Superbugs? Toilet to tap is safer than surfing*
Our big tsunami will come direct from Alaska
Santa Monica tsunami forecast: everything you should know
Hurricane Patricia approaches Mexico at 'incredible' strength
Venomous sea snakes arrive with El Niño*