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About the warnings of a monster super El Nino coming to you this year

2 May 2014

Summary:   Today we have an example of America’s poor ability to process information. Weather reports become climate porn. Run for your lives, an El Nino comes! In fact, an El Nino appears likely in 2014-15. Perhaps a severe one, with substantial effects. But exaggerated warnings, often false, don’t help. Instead they dull our ability to assess and respond to dangers. This article describes the situation, with tips about distinguishing reliable sources from chaff.

This will be updated with additional links as the situation develops.

The World in our Hands
Contents

  1. El Nino: the climate giant
  2. The super monster meme
  3. Actual scientists talk to us
  4. NOAA shows the pictures
  5. Other posts about this story
  6. For More Information

(1)  El Nino: the climate giant

Climate change shows the way information — and memes — spread through America.

As a  ploy in the climate change debate, alarmists attribute large but commonplace (over decades or longer) events to CO2, exciting the public’s fear. A side effect, we’ve become weather hypochondriacs. Much like the 1950s Red scare, when people looked to sky in fear of Russian bombers — and saw many weirdly wonderful normal sights which they mistook for UFO’s (e.g., sun dogs, Venus).

Activists exaggerate, using catchy phrases and wild stories, which more mainstream people (e.g., journalists, scientists, professionals) — all seeking clickbait — adopt and spread. Sound analysis quickly drowns amidst the noise, reducing the debate to a cacophony.

It’s the golden age of climate porn. Today we look at an example of meteorology about a common climate cycle evolving into a horror story.

First some background about El Nino, by Bob Tisdale:

Because El Niño events are typically tied to the seasonal cycle, this El Niño, if it continues to develop and it likely will, would peak in November 2014 to January 2015. So you may be wondering why there’s all the interest in some slow-developing weather event that may happen to grow throughout the rest of the year.

In short, El Niño events cause massive changes in “normal” weather patterns around the globe and El Niño events can cause long-term changes in global surface temperatures. …

There are no other weather-related events on Earth that compare in magnitude to an El Nino.El Niño events are by far the largest of any weather-related phenomenon taking place on the planet, and they impact weather around the globe. If you think tropical cyclones (hurricanes) are big, sometimes it takes two cyclones straddling the equator in the western Pacific just to kick start the initial processes that might cause an El Niño to form. Only catastrophic explosive volcanic eruptions like El Chichon in 1982 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991 can counteract the global effects of an El Niño.

(2)  The super monster meme

News about the possibility of an El Nino started mildly with “An El Niño Coming in 2014?“, Michael Ventrice, Weather Underground, 21 February 2014 — Ventrice works for WSI Energy; he has a PhD in Atmospheric Science and Meteorology — Conclusions:

The Pacific Ocean is now in a state that could reconstruct the base state of the Pacific, favoring an El Niño to develop later this Spring. That being said, it’s not a locked in solution yet as we need to monitor the atmosphere for future westerly wind bursts to help push the Western Pacific Warm Pool along.

On March 6 NOAA issued an official El Nino Watch, after which there were a burst of articles about the effects of a possible El Nino in 2014. Most were reasonable, comparing likely impacts with the uncertainty of these forecasts. Like this: “Unusually Intense El Nino May Lie Ahead, Scientists Say“, Andrew Freedman (science writer), Mashable, 19 March 2014 — An excellent and deeply sourced piece of journalism. Excerpt:

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Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, said conditions are changing rapidly in the Pacific, going from 50/50 odds of an El Niño, to a setup that eerily resembles the circumstances that preceded the monster El Niño of ‘97-’98.

“It’s something we haven’t really seen since the ’97 El Niño,” Blake said of the westerly wind bursts and ocean observations. Instead of having trade winds blowing from the east at 5 to 10 mph, some locations in the western Pacific have had winds from the west blowing at up to 30 miles per hour, Blake says. This is important because it has ripple effects on the sea and below the sea surface.

… Paul Roundy, a meteorology professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York, said that the westerly wind bursts have been extremely strong compared to historical records. Two of these events in particular, Roundy says, “were of similar amplitude to the events that preceded the 1997 El Niño.”

In addition, the warm waters moving eastward under the surface have been measured as much as nine degrees Fahrenheit above average, which is greater than similar waves observed prior to the 1997 El Niño event. “The present event is actually bigger than it was in 1997,” said Roundy.

Roundy cautioned that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the current event will be stronger than 1997-98 was, but it does raise red flags. … Roundy said the chances of an unusually strong El Niño event “Are much higher than average, it’s difficult to put a kind of probability of it … I’ve suggested somewhere around 80%”

“The conditions of the Pacific ocean right now are as favorable for a major event as they were in march of 1997. That’s no major guarantee that a major event develops but clearly it would increase the likelihood of a major event occurring,” Roundy says.

Barnston said any similarities of current conditions in the Pacific to those seen before the 1997-98 El Niño are an insufficient basis for forecasting an intense event. “As for the strength of the event, it is not known. Just seeing similarities with 1997 is not enough to go on,” Barnston told Mashable in an email. “Unless we continue to get westerly wind events in the coming weeks, there is no guarantee that it will be a big event, and there is a 40% or so chance we will not get an El Niño at all,” he told Mashable in an email.

Roundy and Blake also urged caution about concluding that an El Niño event is nearly certain to occur, and that it will be intense. Rather, Blake said, the situation bears close watching.

“Anytime you have a non-negligible chance of something extreme happening, and you see it happening in a way that you haven’t seen in 15 to 20 years, it’s interesting,” says Blake.

The El Nino Monster

By Steve McAlister, Gerry Images

Things go bonkers …

… when a blogger, with no visible background in climate science, wrote an exciting post:

NOAA: El Nino is Coming. Extreme Weather, New Global High Temperature Records to Likely Follow.“, Robert Marston Fanney (fantasy writer; bio here), at his blog RobertScribbler, 6 March 2014. NOAA said nothing remotely like this headline, nor does a typical El Nino justify his repeated predictions of “extreme” weather.

But the Left no longer relies just on scientists (or even mostly on scientists). Scribbler’s blog post was like catnip to felines. Euphoria followed.

This might be the first mention of a “super” El Nino: “Could The Next ‘Super El Niño’ Be Forming?“, Andrew (no last name given, no qualifications in his bio), The Weather Centre, 16 March 2014. The “super” designation went viral. as in:

  1. A super El Niño on the way? Subtle signs emerging“, Jason Samenow, weather blog of the Washington Post, 20 March 2014. It’s exaggeration of Freedman’s article at Mashable.
  2. Is A Super El Niño Coming That Will Shatter Extreme Weather And Global Temperature Records?“, Joe Romm, ThinkProgress, 26 March 2014
  3. Are we heading for a worrying Super El Niño?“, Agus Santoso and Shayne McGregor (scientists at the U of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre), The Conversation, 2 May 2014 — Carefully written with many qualifications, but people probably will remember the prediction more than the caveats. They blurr the distinction between odds of an El Nino (high) and the odds of a super El Nino (unstated).

Robert Fanney then doubled down, playing climate scientist, giving more exaggerations: “Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths: Nose of Massive Kelvin Wave Breaks Surface in Eastern Pacific“, 2 March 2014. As sources he cites mostly the articles cited above, plus NOAA — none of which support his quite certain and extreme forecasts. The Left went bonkers on this, as a thousand links flowed. Science is boring; activism is fun.

Fanney’s might be the first mention of a “monster” El Nino. Others quickly followed his lead:

  1. Is a Super El Nino Coming Next Winter?“, Cliff Mass (Prof Atmospheric Sciences, U WA), 5 April 2014 — A balanced presentation.
  2. El Niño Could Grow Into a Monster, New Data Show“, Eric Holthaus (meterologist), Slate, 7 April 2014
  3. Break Out Your Sun Tan Lotion; Monster El Nino Forming In The Pacific“, by Pollwatcher, Daily Kos, 8 April 2014 —  Scraps of mostly alarmist info from various sources, from NOAA to Scribbler.
  4. If El Niño Comes This Year, It Could Be a Monster“, Adam Mann (reporter), Wired, 14 April 2014
  5. Monster El Nino May Be Brewing, Experts Say“, NBC News, 27 April 2014
  6. Video: “We Are Heading for the Most Powerful Super El Niño Event“, Nemesis Maturity Channel, 6 May 2014
  7. plus many more, as the meme spread.

Plus the usual heavy breathing and over-confident speculation:

  1. Two hottest years ever: 2014 will set new world temperature record – and 2015 will break it“, Rolf Schuttenhelm (science writer), Bits of science, 7 April 2014
  2. Does El Niño Plus Global Warming Equal Global Temperature Records In 2014 And 2015?“, Joe Romm, 22 April 2014
  3. Here comes El Niño: Recent spike in sea temperatures raise fears that a ‘significant’ weather event is on its way“, Daily Mail, 5 May 2014

(3)  Actual scientists talk to us

Throughout all of this the voices of actual scientists were lost in the din.

(a)  Kevin Trenberth (climate scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research) from the Wired article:

“I think there’s no doubt that there’s an El Niño underway. The question is whether it’ll be a small or big one.”

(b)  Halpert is acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. From the NBC News article:

For now, the monthly update on the oceanic conditions that drive El Niño and its sibling, La Nina, put out by the Climate Prediction Center is mum on the potential size of the event. “In our view, there is not a 100% chance there will be an El Niño,” Halpert said. The center’s latest outlook, issued on April 10, just gives better than even odds that one of any size will form.

… Halpert noted that predictions of a monster El Niño are largely extrapolated from the similarity in subsurface warmth prior to the 1997-98 event. “That is a sample size of one,” he said. “While we expect the surface to warm over the next couple of weeks, months, for it to actually take hold and really develop you will need to see the atmosphere respond to those changes,” Halpert said.

(c)  Wenju Cai, climate scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia. From the NBC News article:

“Averaged across the equatorial Pacific, there is a far larger than normal amount of heat, which is a necessary precondition for an El Niño. At the moment, the amount of heat is comparable to that prior to the extreme El Niño of 1997-98.”

(d)  Analysis by Judith Curry (Prof Atmosphere Science, GA Institute Tech), 14 April 2014 — Excerpt:

Spring ENSO predictability barrier

ENSO forecasts issued in spring are highly uncertain, owing to the so-called springtime predictability barrier.  The canonical paper on the spring predictability barrier is a paper by Peter Webster entitled Monsoon and ENSO: Selectively Interactive Systems.

… The punchline is that for ECMWF System 4 seasonal forecasts initiated April 1, forecasts of tropical eastern Pacific surface temperatures (NINO3) rapidly lose skill, whereas forecasts for central Pacific surface temperatures (NINO4) retain skill out for 6 months.  Forecasts initiated June 1 retain their skill out to 6 months, for both NINO3 and NINO4.

… A recent example of a fizzled El Nino forecast was summer of 2012; there was only the barest hint of an El Nino during summer, and then it fizzled out. …

Which flavor of El Nino?

The impacts of an El Nino vary substantially with its ‘flavor’, i.e. whether the warming is concentrated in the East Pacific (NINO3), Central Pacific (El Nino Modoki; NINO4), or mixed. These impacts include tropical cyclone intensity and frequency [link] and [link], and drought and rainfall patterns.  For example, for a regular El Nino in the easter Pacific, California will get plenty of rain in the winter.  However, this is not the case for a Modoki El Nino, where warming is in the Central Pacific.  … For more about this see “The influence of different El Nino types on global average temperature“, Geophysical Research Letters, 28 March 2014. …

{These things are complex}

{T}here are two separate multidecadal modes in the Pacific: PDO and NPGO. ENSO is a high frequency expression of PDO, and Central Pacific Modoki is high frequency expression of NPGO. (a paper by DiLorenzo, can’t find it at the moment). Circulation patterns in a cold PDO are more conducive to La Nina (fixed).

The stadium wave model includes all of these.

(e)  “El Ninos and La Ninas and Global Warming“, Donald Rapp (was a Professor of Physics and Environmental Engineering at U Texas-Dallas; bio), Climate Etc, 7 May 2014 — Opening:

Why after 400 years of La Niña precedence, did periods of El Niños dominance start in the 20th century? And why did the two periods of strong El Niño dominance in the 20th century occur during a period when the CO2 concentration was rising? Is there a link between rising CO2 and the El Niño – La Niña balance? But if there is such a link, why did El Niños become less prevalent than La Niñas from 1941 to 1976 and be in balance after 1998?

(f) El Niño or Bust“, Michelle L’Heureux (NOAA Climate Prediction Center), RealClimate, 8 May 2014

At this point, the team remains non-committal on the possible strength of El Niño preferring to watch the system for at least another month or more before trying to infer the intensity. But, could we get a super strong event? The range of possibilities implied by some models allude to such an outcome, but at this point the uncertainty is just too high. While subsurface heat content levels are well above average (March was the highest for that month since 1979 and April was the second highest), ENSO prediction relies on many other variables and factors. We also remain in the spring prediction barrier, which is a more uncertain time to be making ENSO predictions.

Could El Niño predictions fizzle? Yes, there is roughly a 2 in 10 chance at this point that this could happen. It happened in 2012 when an El Nino Watch was issued, chances became as high as 75% and El Niño never formed. Such is the nature of seasonal climate forecasting when there is enough forecast uncertainty that “busts” can and do occur. In fact, more strictly, if the forecast probabilities are “reliable,” an event with an 80% chance of occurring should only occur 80% of the time over a long historical record. Therefore, 20% of the time the event must NOT occur (click here for a description of verification techniques)

(4)  NOAA shows the pictures

State of the art climate models from NOAA’s weekly ENSO report:
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ENSO model forecast

ENSO weekly report, NOAA, 28 April 2014

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ENSO model forecast

ENSO Weekly report, NOAA, 28 April 2014

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These models forecast an El Nino peaking with a Nino 3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly of 1.5°K. Is that a super monster anomaly? There have been eight stronger ones since 1951, including the 1997-98 El Nino peaking at 2.4!
.

List of El Nino events

Weekly ENSO report, NOAA, 28 April 2014

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(5)  Other posts about this story

(6)  For More Information

(a)  About this El Nino:

  1. What Does El Niño Mean for Me?“, Slate, 21 April 2014 — “Predictions for how the weather pattern could affect more than 60 cities, states, regions, and countries.”
  2. El Niño or La Nada? The great forecast challenge of 2014“, Bob Henson, National Corporation for Atmospheric Research, 18 March 2014 — “Seasonal forecasting can’t tell us with certainty whether to expect hotter-than usual or milder-than-usual weather this summer. Yet we might soon have a stronger sense of what late 2014 and early 2015 are likely to bring to large parts of the globe.”
  3. Very early warning of next El Niño“, Josef Ludeschera et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 11 February 2014 — For a non-technical description see “Researchers suggest controversial approach to forecasting El Nino“, Phys.org
  4. NOAA’s weekly ENSO update

(b)  About El Nino cycles

  1. Comprehensive list of Sea Surface Temperature & El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Predictions, at NOAA’s website
  2. Effects of El Niño on world weather, The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)
  3. Weather Impacts of ENSO, National Weather Service
  4. ENSO impacts: El Niño Southern Oscillation is a key component of year-to-year climate variability, UK Met Office

(c)  Reference Pages about climate on the FM sites:

  1. The important things to know about global warming
  2. My posts
  3. Studies & reports, by subject
  4. The history of climate fears

(d)  Posts asking if we’re prepared for past weather?

  1. Have we prepared for normal climate change and non-extreme weather?, 11 February 2014
  2. Droughts are coming. Are we ready for the past to repeat?, 12 March 2014

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 May 2014 11:19 am

    It WILL be fun to the “the pause” cherrypickers have to move on to a new meme. What will it be? “CO2 is plant food?” “CO2 is a trace gas”? I can hardly wait.

    Like

    • 2 May 2014 3:02 pm

      Claimsguy,

      “It WILL be fun to the “the pause” cherrypickers ave to move on ”

      I suggest you listen to climate scientists, not activists. Mention of the pause/hiatus is standard in climate science research. Scientists have moved on from analysis to determine if there is a pause in the surface atmosphere temperature warming — to finding its causes and forecasting its duration (almost all agree it’s a pause, not an end). See the links to reports by major climate agencies and peer-reviewed research in these posts:

      1. Still good news: global temperatures remain stable, at least for now., 14 October 2012
      2. Scientists explore causes of the pause in warming, perhaps the most important research of the decade, 17 January 2014
      3. One of the most important questions we face: when will the pause in global warming end?, 25 August 2013

      Like

    • Gary permalink
      8 May 2014 4:54 am

      As I’v said before on this site, The % of Co2 in the atmosphere is .04 of 1%. Far to low to cause a green house effect. Water vapor is far more likely to cause a green house effect. Most of the supposed facts in the media don’t come from scientists but as the editor said from activists. Follow the money trail through scientists for gov. grants and gov. for carbon taxes and more control.

      Like

    • 8 May 2014 5:00 am

      Gary,

      I cannot imagine why you believe climate scientists don’t understand the role of co2 and water vapor. In fact, the standard theory is that co2 forcing increases temperature, which increases the amount of water vapor, which increases…

      What’s not fully understood are the many other forces: solar, clouds, ocean heating, natural cycles, etc. The debate among scientists concerns the adequacy of their understanding, and the current models’ ability to make reliable long-term forecasts.

      Like

  2. 9 May 2014 2:31 am

    This post was updated with new links and excerpts.

    Like

  3. Joseph Bastardi permalink
    11 May 2014 9:18 pm

    See this video: WeatherBELL, 10 May 2014.

    Shows the huge differences in the set ups. This one much more like 02/09 global temp spike will be followed by fall . Next winter likely to be nasty for US!

    Like

    • 11 May 2014 9:29 pm

      Joe,

      Thank you for posting a comment, and the pointer to your website.

      For those not familiar with Joseph Bastardi, his bio at WeatherBell Analytics:

      Formerly the Chief Long Range Forecaster at Accuweather, Joe Bastardi is an institution in the science of weather prediction. Many companies across a multitude of industries, from energy to retail, have profited from his forecasts. His exceptional skills are rooted in a comprehensive understanding of global oscillations and in-depth analysis of historical weather patterns. Mr.Bastardi’s analog approach, which finds similarities between current and historical weather patterns, allows him to make an accurate forecast, sometimes in defiance of computer model consensus.

      During his 32 year tenure at Accuweather, Mr. Bastardi built a large private client services business. Additionally, Mr. Bastardi was well known for his blog featuring the popular videos “The Big Dog” and “The Long Ranger.”

      His reputation for making bold and accurate forecasts has landed him on major television programs including Fox News Live, ABC World News, The O’Reilly Factor, The Colbert Report, CBS’ The Early Show, Imus in the Morning, and several others.

      Mr. Bastardi graduated from Pennsylvania State University and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Meteorology.

      Like

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