NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center reported last month:
Based on preliminary data, the globally averaged combined land and sea surface temperature was … the eighth warmest for boreal winter (December-February) and the January-February year-to-date period.
This is especially impressive because, as NCDC reported:
Cold phase El Ni±o-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) (La Ni±a) conditions were present across the equatorial Pacific Ocean during February 2009….
The Oceanic Ni±o Index [three-month (December-January-February) running mean] was -0.8°C (-1.4°F), which is below the threshold of -0.5°C (-0.9°F), indicating La Ni±a conditions.
We’ve been in a moderate La Ni±a for much of the past 2 years, one reason why global temperature rise has appeared to slow a tad and why we haven’t returned to the record highs of the moderate El Ni±o year 2005.
The rest of the year, however, appears poised to be back on the very warm side. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center released today its monthly ENSO discussion and forecast, which concludes:
Synopsis: A transition to ENSO-neutral conditions is expected during April 2009.
Atmospheric and oceanic conditions during March 2009 continued to reflect weak La Ni±a conditions. The monthly sea surface temperatures (SST) remain below-average across parts of the eastcentral and eastern Pacific Ocean. The Ni±o-3.4 SST index value persisted near ˆ’0.5°C during the month. Negative subsurface oceanic heat content anomalies (average temperatures in the upper 300m of the ocean, weakened further across the eastern half of the equatorial Pacific Ocean….
Collectively, these oceanic and atmospheric anomalies are consistent with a weakening La Ni±a.
A majority of model forecasts for the Ni±o-3.4 region show that once ENSO-neutral conditions are reached, it will continue through the remainder of 2009.
If indeed most of the rest of the year is ENSO-neutral, then that will end a major factor masking the overall warming trend. A couple of models are showing that we might even end up with a weak El Ni±o by summer, which would probably take us close to record hot temperatures again.
But a big caveat is required here. In response to an email query, Ed O’Lenic, Chief, Operations Branch, NOAA-NWS-Climate Prediction Center wrote me:
April is actually one of the most difficult months in which to make a seasonal-to-interannual forecast, because of a decadally-varying phenomenon known as the “spring barrier”, in which the skill of forecasts made prior to May which are valid for subsequent seasons tend to have lower skill than forecasts made later, but for the same target seasons.
The same is basically true of hurricane forecasts — but if you are interested you can read a couple of new, conflicting forecasts for the Atlantic hurricane season at Jeff Masters’ terrific blog. Either we’re going to have a typical hurricane season or a busy one. Or not.
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