Summary: Now that the El Niño appears to have peaked, journalists tell us how horrific the damage is so far (most of the effects on America lie ahead). Let’s see what they say — and what NOAA says. Spoiler: don’t believe the clickbait.
NOAA, conservative and accurate as usual, says in their Jan 14 El Niño Diagnostic Discussion that “El Niño has already produced significant global impacts and is expected to affect temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States during the upcoming months.”
Journalists jazz up the story. The Daily News reports that “Forecasters have revealed the catastrophic effects this year’s record breaking El Niño has had on weather around the world.” NBC News: “The El Niño currently wreaking havoc around the world is forecast to only worsen in 2016.” None of these give specifics, such as comparing this year vs. past averages or records.
The Guardian is, as usual, gives some of the most vivid weather porn.
“From some of the worst floods ever known in Britain, to record-breaking temperatures over the Christmas holiday in the US and forest fires in Australia, the link between the tumultuous weather events experienced around the world in the last few weeks is likely to be down to the natural phenomenon known as El Niño making the effects of man-made climate change worse, say atmospheric scientists.
“… The latest floods, droughts and extreme weather are what might be expected of a strong El Niño, according to the WMO. “Severe droughts and devastating flooding are being experienced throughout the tropics, and subtropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño,” said the organisation’s chief, Michel Jarraud.
“… The widespread El Niño effects are now being felt in Africa, Latin America, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, the WMO said. In Central America, one of the most severe droughts on record has left 3.5 million people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in need of food aid. The UN says that more than 2 million people have been affected in Peru and Ecuador.
“In Ethiopia, the government estimates that 10.2 million people will need help in 2016 at a cost of $1.4bn (£944m). Elsewhere in Africa, staple crops have been devastated in Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. Food shortages are expected to peak in southern Africa in February.
“… The warm Pacific temperatures have also led to a record number of hurricanes and cyclones. According to the US government’s national oceanic and atmospheric administration, there were 18 named storms in 2015, including 13 hurricanes, nine of which were category three or higher. This is the highest number recorded since reliable measurements started in 1971.”
How much of this results from the El Niño? How much is even true? A little research finds many holes in the story. Let’s start by checking The Guardian’s claims about regional extreme weather with NOAA’s International Climate Prediction Center.
Despite what The Guardian implies, the Central American drought began in mid-2014, the year before this El Niño. As for the weather now, we turn to NOAA — whose Central America page reports no extreme weather in the recent past — or expected in the near future.
“Over the previous 30-day period, dating to December 12th, most regions have observed slightly below-normal amounts of rain. … Vegetation indices remain quite good, especially in Pacific facing portions of the region.”
How about Africa?
As with Latin America, the drought in southeastern Africa that began in 2014 is blamed on the 2015-16 El Niño. NOAA’s Africa page provides current information. Their current Africa weather hazards page shows a small area with drought (no “severe drought”), of the kind commonplace in Africa. The graph shows yellow as abnormal dryness, orange as drought, and green as severe drought for that period.
“Significantly suppressed and poorly distributed seasonal rainfall since October has negatively affected many countries in southern Africa. Exacerbated by a poor rainfall seasonal performance last year, several consecutive weeks of inadequate rainfall has already led to reduced water availability, delayed planting, permanently wilted crops, reduced planted areas, and livestock deaths and other adverse ground conditions over many areas.”
What about Southeast Asia?
This from their South Asia page shows rainfall anomalies for December 2015: rainfall more or less than usual for December. Some areas have too much rain. Some have too little rain. Do you see an El Niño impact?
What about the record hurricane season?
The Guardian’s skillful writing conceals that 2015 was the second most-active year for hurricanes, behind 1992 (a moderate El Niño year), as Wikipedia states…
“A record 31 tropical depressions developed, of which 26 became named storms, just shy of the record 27 set in 1992. A record-tying 16 became hurricanes, and a record 11 storms became major hurricanes throughout the season. …”
Accumulated Cyclone Energy is a better measure by which it was not an unusual year overall. In the Eastern Pacific basin it was the 2nd strongest on record, close behind 1992. See the interactive graph at Wunderground.
NOAA said this would be among the three strongest El Niños on record (since 1950) — depending upon the measure used. And so it was.
As for the news media, they have to deliver after two years of hype about the coming super monster Godzilla El Niño. So they quote record highs for this El Niño (by statistically insignificant increments), and ignore other metrics which aren’t records — and make sweeping claims about its effects. The Guardian it seems finds El Niño guilty for much of this year’s extreme weather (even slightly extreme), anywhere — no matter when it began. Nor do they provide any evidence. Attribution is difficult, so they substitute bold claims.
A little investigation shows that some of the Guardian’s claims about events appear exaggerated, to put it gently.
Meanwhile NOAA continues their good work. Eventually they will give a comprehensive accounting of this El Niño’s effects, probably refuting the lurid descriptions of so many journalists — and especially The Guardian’s hysteria. Perhaps some day journalists will routinely check with NOAA rather than publishing clickbait — but only if we ever come to prefer real news.
Getting ready for the La Nina
Until the public grows bored, there will always be weather — and journalists will give us weather porn: “First was El Niño, now brace for La Niña” by CNBC, 16 Jan 2016 — Excerpt (blames the El Nino for everything except the sun rising each day) …
“Wild weather swings from the phenomenon known as El Niño have rocked commodities and countries from Australia to Paraguay. Now, analysts are tipping renewed jitters spurred by La Nina, El Niño’s little sister.”
Other posts about this El Niño
- Learning from 2014: Looks like yet another false alarm. Probably no super monster El Niño coming this year.
- Choose your facts: learn about the El Niño from journalists or activists.
- Prepare for a clickbait avalanche about the super El Niño!
- El Niño, The Media Star: Separating Hype from Probability — From the Browning World Climate Bulletin.
- Update on El Niño: will Gaia disappoint the climate activists?
- This El Niño is not Godzilla. What can we learn from the 2 years of hype?
- NOAA debunks the hysteria about this El Niño. Why don’t we listen?
- NOAA’s winter update: about the weird warmth and the El Niño.
For More Information
See Bob Tisdale’s analysis “How Strong Was That El Niño or La Niña? – No One Knows For Sure”.