Michael Byrnes of Reuters reported that previous El Nino events are now thought to be linked to influenza outbreaks and to have triggered plagues and revolutions in the past, being responsible in part for the French Revolution, the Irish Potato Famine, and the Black Death of the 14th century. Richard Grove, speaking at the start of the El Nino History and Crisis conference at the Australian National University, linked the 1787-88 ENSO with the French Revolution, through crop failures in 1785 and 1788.

Influenza outbreaks between 1557 and 1900 appear associated with ENSO events, as are smallpox and malaria. 17th century ENSO events may have caused 50 % mortality in Java and other areas through malaria. ENSO droughts resulting from monsoon failure led to major famines. The strong 1845 event produced "peculiar weather conditions" in Ireland, perhaps triggering the potato blight.

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