Update on El Niño: will Gaia disappoint the climate activists?

Summary: Climate alarmists have run wild with predictions about the “monster” “Godzilla” El Niño, their last throw of the dice before the COP-21 climate conference in Paris. Here is an example by Brad Plummer, with some debunking. The latest forecasts of the major climate models suggest that it will disappoint activists (but match NOAA’s more cautious predictions).

El Nino in action, from NOAA

When did we “pathologize” weather? When did commonplace weather become abnormal? The debates over the past and future of anthropogenic climate change are of great importance (climate change is ubiquitous in history). But the news increasingly describes normal weather as a kind of plague, something to fear.

For example see “El Niño, explained: A guide to the biggest weather story of 2015” by Brad Plummer at Vox. Plummer’s perspective is clearly stated by his tagline: “On the apocalypse beat, more or less.” His article is a masterpiece of propaganda, creating fear to advance his public policy agenda. A few excerpts, matched with reality, tell the tale.

“Now it looks like we’re in for a monster. The El Niño currently brewing in the Pacific is shaping up to be one of the strongest ever recorded.”

Plummer links to a page by the World Meteorological Organization, which gives different message. Their forecast is “placing this El Niño event among the three strongest previous events since 1950 (1972-73, 1982-83, 1997-98).” Plummer says “strongest ever recorded”, which suggests a long-term record. Unlike saying one of the four strongest since 1950, which is not alarming.

“El Niño has already helped make 2015 the hottest year on record …”

Plummer links to a NOAA page which says that September was a record, “beating the previous record set last year by 0.07°C (0.13°F) — and that the first nine months of 2015 were a record “surpassing the previous records of 2010 and 2014 by 0.12°C (0.21°F).” Neither of these tiny increments are statistically significant, especially given the uncertainty of temperature records assembled by each nation (many weather agencies are grossly underfunded).

Alarmists ran this scam with the 2014 “record” high. NOAA said 2014 had a 48% probability of being the warmest of the past 135 years, meaning “more unlikely than likely” (NASA gave it a 38% probability).

Also, neither of the two NASA-funded global satellite datasets shows record high temperatures in the lower troposphere (by Remote Sensing Systems and U AL-Huntsville).

To put this in a larger context, the world has been warming over the entire 136 year-long temperature record — and “human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010” (from AR5).  It remains a point of debate if the world is warmer than during other warm spells during the past 3 thousand years.

“The last truly massive El Niño appeared in 1997-’98 and ended up causing an estimated $35 billion in destruction and 23,000 deaths around the world. “

This is a tactic loved by activists of Left and Right, stating a large scary number without context. The world had an annual income (GDP) of $107 trillion (PPP) in 2014. $35 billion is 0.03% of that — probably a small fraction of the destruction from an average winter (see this about US-only weather losses). As for the deaths, influenza kills 250,000 to 500,000 every year.

Rather than continue wading through this article, let’s ask a more interesting question.

Why do activists write these things?

After a 26 year-long campaign, few nations have adopted significant public policy measures to fight anthropogenic climate change. Key emerging nations, such as China, remain firmly opposed (willing to make big promises about future action, while rapidly building coal-burning power plants). The US public consistently ranks climate change at or near the bottom of public policy concerns.

Now activists’ bold forecasts are coming due, such as warning of more and stronger hurricanes after Katrina (which proved false). In the past few years they’ve bombarded the US public with forecasts of certain doom based on misrepresenting the worst case scenario used in the IPCC’s AR5 as the “business as usual” scenario. And abandoned the IPCC as “too conservative” (e.g., about the methane apocalypse). Plus falsely blaming climate change for an absurdly wide range of things, from flooding of Pacific atolls, to terrorism. Now activists see the tide of world public opinion turning against them — as more imminent challenges appear, such as terrorism and the economy.

So activists like Plummer have gone all in on the next El Niño. Last year they sounded the alarm about the “super monster” El Nino, which never came. This year they’ve sounded the alarm about the “monster” “Godzilla” El Niño. It’s their last chance to build support before the COP-21 Conference in Paris. Now Gaia appears to be disappointing them.

Update on the El Niño

Every month the IRI/CPC (Columbia U and NOAA) publishes a plume of forecasts about the temperature anomaly in the Pacific’s Niño3.4 region. The November plume shows the anomaly as 2.5°C in October. The average of dynamic models predicts 2.6°C in the Nov-Jan quarter, then a rapid fall. Statistical models predict 2.5°C in Nov-Jan, then a rapid fall. Neither suggests a long or “Godzilla” El Niño. Time will tell if these forecasts are accurate, too high, or too low.

IRI/CPC plume of El Nino forecasts

What if the “Godzilla” El Niño is a dud, in the sense of failing to meet the expectations of disaster created for the public? Will another blown forecast by activists make a difference?

Clear vision

Comparing this El Niño with its predecessors

There are many ways to measure the strength of an El Niño, as Tom Di Liberto explains in “Exactly the same, but completely different: why we have so many different ways of looking at sea surface temperature” at NOAA.

For more details about this cycle see Bob Tisdale’s Is the Current El Niño Stronger Than the One in 1997/98? Also see “November El Niño update: It’s a small world” by Emily Becker at NOAA, 12 November 2015 — and this graphic…

Ranking of Aug-Oct El Nino events since 1950

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Also see these posts about El Niño…

For a better understanding of extreme weather…

To learn more about the 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).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.