Choose your facts: learn about the El Niño from journalists or activists

Summary: Today we look at news coverage of the weather, another demonstration of our bad info diet. Friday’s post contrasted reporting about the new El Niño by NOAA with that by activists. Today we contrast reporting by climate alarmist (amateurs’ analysis) with that by the major news media.  (1st of 2 posts today.)

Graphic of El Nino


  1. Activists’ climate porn.
  2. Good journalism.
  3. Sound analysis.
  4. For More Information.
  5. What is an El Niño?

(1)  Activists give us climate porn

Like those on the Right, Leftists often get their information from tribal sources that filter the news, crafting it into stories that stoke the faithful. Such as “Super El Nino Likely as Huge Warm Water Wave Hits West Coast, Extreme Marine Die Off Developing” by George Birchard (geochemist; bio here), Daily Kos.

In early March, the strongest wave of tropical convection ever measured (known as the Madden Julian Oscillation) by modern meteorology moved into the western Pacific … Last year the largest Kelvin wave ever seen in the Pacific ocean developed …

This has little resemblance to the reports from NOAA. He does not mention that records on El Niño only go back to 1950, and satellite records back to 1979 — brief periods as climate cycles go. No mention of the Spring prediction barrier, which make forecasts less reliable at this time. No mention that this cycle differs in many ways from those on record, making predictions less reliable. Nothing comparing the size of cycles during the past 60 years.

Those who prefer straight climate porn turn to Robert Marston Fanney (fantasy writer; bio here) at his blog RobertScribbler (“Scribbling for economic, social, and environmental justice”). Despite having no visible background in climate science, last year he ignited the Left’s hysteria about a monster super El Nino (which didn’t happen).

He tries again this year with “Summer El Nino on The Way; Long Range Models Are Still Freaking Out“. Although better than his bizarre columns last year about El Nino, it’s still vivid and misleading. Here’s an example…


After that time, an unprecedentedly warm Kelvin Wave will do battle with a seasonal tendency for cooling in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. And if it wins out, we may see something never before recorded in the whole of the Earth Sciences — which would be very bad news for rates of global surface temperature increase this year, along with a huge number of other issues.

For another examples of his exciting comic-book-like climate alarmism: “Polar Vortex Ripped in Half by Anomalous Jet Stream, High Arctic Experiencing 32 Degree F Above Average Temperatures Over Broad Region“ (another non-event).

Map of 1998 El Nino

(2)  Good journalism

We need not rely on these fringe writers with little or no qualifications. As the public’s interest in weather and climate have increased, journalists have improved their game, and provide good coverage.

“El Niño is increasingly likely to persist through the fall and possibly winter, and may be one of the strongest ones in almost two decades, U.S. and Australian government meteorologists said this week.” (From

“If a strong El Niño does develop and persists into the winter, the likely U.S. impacts would include wetter-than-average conditions across the southern half of the country, from California through Texas to Florida, according to Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.”  (USA Today)

With California suffering from a severe drought, the Los Angeles Times gives a some deep coverage.

Some experts have believed that the first signs of California’s drought easing could emerge thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. That’s where the famously fickle weather condition known as El Niño forms. Predicting one can be difficult. But when the effects of a very strong El Niño arrive in California, heavy — sometimes epic — rains often follow. Over the last year, scientists have been disappointed as signs of El Niño fizzled. But this week, they are seeing clear signals that the “great wet hope” is showing signs of life. But it remains a big “if.”

Patzert said the increasingly warm temperatures in the Pacific Ocean along the equator this year were a reminder of conditions back in the spring of 1997, the prelude to a record El Niño year that brought heavy rains to California. To California weather watchers, the winter of 1997-98 is significant because it brought widespread flooding and mudslides, causing more than half a billion dollars in damage and causing 17 deaths. Downtown L.A. got nearly a year’s worth of rain in the month of February.

“This looks like the real deal, and something that might replicate the famous 1997-98 El Niño. This is as close as we’ve come,” said Patzert, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. He and others are quick to warn that this El Niño could fade before the winter rainy season begins, which would do California little good.


(3)  Sound analysis

Turn to Bob Hanson of Weather Underground for a more detailed explanation of these events. He explains why last year’s forecast proved false and the uncertainty of forecasts before the Spring prediction barrier, then puts the current weather into a broad context.

The robust El Niño event anticipated for more than a year is finally coming to fruition, according to the latest observations and forecasts. … These are the highest probabilities yet for the current event, and a sign of increased forecaster confidence — despite the fact that we’re in northern spring, the very time when El Niño outlooks are most uncertain.

Forecasters and computer models alike have been confounded by this event. … Keying off this wave, many of the global models used in El Niño prediction called for a moderate or even strong El Niño by the fall of 2014. However, the normal east-to-west trade winds never reversed, which helped torpedo the needed ocean-atmosphere synchrony. The ocean tried again last fall with another Kelvin wave, but again the atmosphere failed to respond, and the SST warming disappeared after a few weeks.

If this El Niño event does intensify, as models strongly suggest it will (see below), it’ll be one for the record books. … Persisting into northern fall will also greatly raise the odds of this becoming a rare two-year event. … See the new blog by Emily Becker for more on the unusual timing of this event.

In our increasingly tribal America people get their news from unreliable sources that feed their political biases rather than the less exciting mainstream media. So we burn time debating the facts while our public policy wheels spin aimlessly. We can do better.

For More Information

Too see the latest graphs of model forecasts go to Columbia’s IRI ENSO Forecast and NOAA’s Nino3.4 Forecasts. For the most current forecast about this El Niño see NOAA’s weekly ENSO report. For another perspective on these cycles look at one of nature’s climate indicators: “”ENSO and the anchovy” by Phil Salmon at Climate Etc.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See these Reference Pages for other posts about climate on the FM sites: the keys to understanding climate change and my posts about climate change. For more about the Left’s program see Appeals to fear gain little support for the Left on climate change. What next?

To learn more about the overall state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).

What is an el Niño?



3 thoughts on “Choose your facts: learn about the El Niño from journalists or activists”

  1. When you have no real threats, people make up threats. It’s part of human nature to be faced with threat. What do you think?

    1. Brrrenda,

      I think we have no shortage of real threats — short, medium, and long-term. But they’re seldom politically useful, so we hear about the ones of use to our ruling elites. For example, we’re wrecking the oceans. That’s a threat of the most serious kind, but we here little about it.

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