NOAA’s winter update: about the weird warmth and this El Niño

Summary: While journalists too often turn reporting about the weather into clickbait and climate porn the IPCC and major climate agencies produce clear and accurate articles. Why we choose to be poorly informed despite access to the information superhighway is a mystery for future historians to solve. For those that prefer the red pill, here are three articles from NOAA explaining this winter’s weather and the 2015-16 El Niño.

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Contents

  1. Why we’re misled; how to get good info.
  2. Explaining our warm winter: “July in Christmas”.
  3. Was this a record strong El Niño?
  4. Here’s the missing key: uncertainty of measurements
  5. Other posts about this El Niño.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Why we’re misled; how to get good info

Journalists report the weather and climate because it provides a stream of lurid stories (always a disaster or record in some form, somewhere) that we enjoy reading. They increasingly rely on activists (often amateur activists) for alarming — entertaining but often misleading — sound bites. Which is why the news media are among our least-trusted institutions, and their profits are melting like this winter’s snow.

Journalists — and citizens — interested in accurate information can turn to reliable and clear articles from NOAA. NOAA had a good 2015. They accurately predicted this would be among the 3 strongest on record, contrary to the hysterical predictions of a “monster” or “Godzilla” El Niño. And it appears to have peaked as their models predicted in early December, although the strongest impacts on the weather lie ahead in January and February.

The following three excerpts explain key things about this winter’s weather. What’s causing it? (Spoiler:  as usual, there are several factors at work.) How strong is this El Niño (using an alternative measure)? And they explain the key detail missing in almost every story about weather records: the uncertainty of these measurements.

 (2) Excerpt from “July in Christmas

By Michelle L’Heureux
At NOAA’s website, 8 January 2016

{W}hat on earth was going on with the weather?  Let’s zoom out and look at November and December together because they were fairly similar.  As you can see below, temperatures were strongly above-average across much of North America (shown by the yellow/orange/red shading), with the exception of the western U.S. which was either near or slightly below average (shown by the blue shading).

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