NOAA: Eighth warmest winter on record, this summer may be a hot one

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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26 Responses to NOAA: Eighth warmest winter on record, this summer may be a hot one

  1. paulm says:

    Things ARE about he heat up over the next couple of years (just like Hansen predicts) because the sun will soon starting to get warm again…..

    The sun is moving to an active part of its cycle…

    Deep Solar Minimum

    [JR: I’ll blog on that soon.]

  2. Bob Wallace says:

    Not that I’m hoping for a new record high, but it will be interesting to see how denier world will react when we set one ot two.

    Their old “cooling since ’98” talking point will be dead.

  3. Greg N says:

    Has anybody bothered to take the time to compile a list of every denier-delayer who has claimed “cooling since 1998”?

    I agree it’ll be interesting seeing their response to the coming record years! Will they simply ignore their old “cooling since 1998” claims, or will they excuse it away, or will they simply deny the facts?

  4. Ben says:

    What will happen if there is a strong El Nino?

  5. MarkB says:

    Here’s an interesting map of recent Nino SSTs:

    La Nina has been weakening over the last month.

    The CFS ensemble forecasts a mild el Nino by the end of the year. They were one of the few to predict the recent rapid re-establishment of la Nina.

    NASA’s model forecasts a strong el Nino. I’m skeptical of this for the simple reason that sustained SST anomalies of > 2 don’t happen very often.

    The solar cycle is indeed in a very extended minimum, which is likely dampening global temperatures a bit. However, even if it starts up again very shortly (not that easy to predict), there’s a long enough lag period where global temperatures wouldn’t be affected much over the next couple of years, and the longer the minimum the shorter the next maximum. Regardless, effects of the solar cycle on global temperatures is overwhelmed by factors like ENSO in the short-term, and greenhouse gases in the long-term.

  6. MarkB says:

    Ben writes:

    “What will happen if there is a strong El Nino?”

    Very likely, the 2005 global temperature record will be broken in 2010 (despite a long solar cycle minimum).

  7. Aaron says:

    Thanks for bringing the report to our attention Joe.

    Regarding the deniers, they’ll just try to make up some other crap to legitimize their claims of “no global warming” in the face of overwhelming data to the contrary. But then again, when do they actually care about data anyhow.

  8. Rick C says:


    As an avid Amateur Radio Operator I follow solar activity because it directly effects our ability to communicate globally. Currently we are in, what solar activity observers call, a Maunder Minimum. It has been an unusually long and quiet period for solar activity with many months at a stretch with no sunspots what-so-ever. This was the case in 2008 when 266 of 365 days went without sunspot activity. this year we’ve seen no sunspots on 78 of 90 days. NASA reports that we are at a 50 year low with only 20% solar wind pressure since the mid 1990’s as reported by the Ulysses space craft. When we get out of this Maunder Minimum it is predicted that solar activity will be unusually low when we peak in the next 11 year solar cycle.

  9. Paul Kelly says:

    There are some things a denier cannot deny:

    Earth has warmed [nearly a couple of degrees F] in the last 250 years with an acceleration in the second half of the last century.

    A CO2 ppm level of 560 ([2x] preindustrial levels) most likely contributes about [3C] greenhouse effect.

    Residential Geothermal is cool.

  10. MarkB says:

    Aaron writes:

    “Regarding the deniers, they’ll just try to make up some other crap to legitimize their claims of “no global warming” in the face of overwhelming data to the contrary. ”

    In the anti-science denialsphere, we see a knee-jerk reaction to everything. For instance, the long solar minimum they claim will cause substantial global cooling, along with ocean cycles. And we’re also due for an imminent ice age, some of them say. They will indeed have some explaining to do on the next global temperature record. The more they greatly over-emphasize natural cooling factors, other factors (such as the increase in CO2) must then be that much stronger to be keeping temperatures up.

  11. paulm says:

    So for the Hurricane forecast, we’re going to have a slow start to the season, but its going to finish with a bang.

  12. Now we should try to get our heads around some answers. And they have to be affordable in the present economic context.

    Can we defeat gravity? Miastrada can cut its effect 80%.

    Can we create real estate? Miastrada can double highway capacity and double parking lot space.

    Can we conquer air drag? Miastrada can cut it 80%.

    Send around some deniers to click my name. Or maybe even a few who are concerned enough about the climate to try to think about some serious and cheap solutions.

  13. Paul Kelly says:

    Thanks for the corrections. I meant to say two times preindustrial levels. Farenhiet is good. Does anyone remember Mark Russell’s song I will never go metric?

    Maybe I should have said 560 ([2x] preindustrial levels) most likely contributes about [3C] to the greenhouse effect. Yesterday NASA posted non CO2 reasons for up to 45% of arctic warming

  14. Lou Grinzo says:

    Trying to pin down the deniers and refute their “logic” is a waste of time. They’re not interested in science or facts, just serving their private interests, whether that’s ideology or money. All they want to do is delay meaningful action on climate chaos as long as possible, and they’ll say virtually anything to achieve that goal. Changing arguments, fudging data, repeating the same nonsense we’ve all seen debunked a few hundred times online, etc. are all just part of their verbal arsenal.

    We’re trying to build something (widespread understanding of the science behind climate chaos), and they’re trying to tear it down.

  15. Jonsi says:

    Correct Lou, because I suspect many of the prominent deniers actually believe (and sometimes they do acknowledge it) that the climate is changing and CO2 is responsible. They just think that what is good for business is good for business and that any government regulation is automatically evil. They cling to that ideology and move the goal posts on their arguments accordingly. This is why a lot of the denial community now focuses on “CO2 is good, it is cheaper to adapt,” yawn, yawn, yawn.

    It does not have to be that way. Regulation that focuses on outcomes instead of methods, allowing the market to determine how businesses can achieve those outcomes, is usually good for business. It utilizes capitalism to save money and drive new areas of innovation.

  16. Bob Wallace says:

    I suspect the “good for business” argument will soon slip away from the deniers.

    As more and more companies find that they can save significant money via conservation and make significant money by investing in renewables it’s less likely to be “What is good for GM…” is more likely to be a version of “What’s good for Tesla…”.

  17. It pains me to observe that the more we directly feel global warming events, the more denialist redouble their efforts.

    It is as if denialism is a way of dealing with global warming –which in a way it is. It is just that it is the worst possible way to face the problem.

    Now too, we should ask what would we be talking about right now if there were no significant denialism? Wedges? Political efforts? New science?

    What percentage of our energy is sucked out of the discussion by the tiresome rehash of logical science? 20%? 30%? Are we respecting deniers too much?

  18. Bob Wallace says:

    I just saw this August ’08 article today. Folks might want to give it a read if they aren’t familiar with the financial interests fueling some/many of those denier-trolls that we so enjoy….

    “In May this year, the multibillion-dollar oil giant Exxon-Mobil acknowledged that it had been doing something similar. It announced that it would cease funding nine groups that had fuelled a global campaign to deny climate change.

    Exxon’s decision comes after a shareholder revolt by members of the Rockefeller family and big superannuation funds to get the oil giant to take climate change more seriously.”

    There’s some nice stuff about the Heartland Institute and intentional liars.

  19. David B. Benson says:

    This prolonged solar minimum is not at all a Maunder-type minimum, rather, more like that in 1913 CE.

    The phase lag betwen TSI at its atmospheric weather effect, necessarily global in scope, is not well characterized, but seems to be somewhat less than one year. That means that the cooler weather now which is not attributable to current la Nina conditions (partly) refects the state of the solar cycle last summer; near-minimum.

    So even if the next sunspot cycle starts being active right away, we are in for another, say, nine months of cooler weather from this effect.

    I predict 2009 CE will be one of the cooler years this century (2000 CE onwards) and at least 12th warmest overall.

  20. Rick C says:


    I stand corrected on the Maunder Minimum.

  21. Rick C says:

    Sorry that was David.

  22. Gail says:

    Lou Grinzo,

    “Climate Chaos”

    I like that, I think you’re on to something here.

    Climate Chaos is a much more apt description than the easily distorted “Global Warming” or the innocuous “Climate Change.”

    It conveys the uneven, unpredictable and dangerous effects of AGW.

    I vote we all start calling it Climate Chaos.

  23. Will Greene says:

    I’m going to be optimistic and say the beginning of the end of the “debate” will come if we reach temperatures exceeding 98′ and 05′. Their argument is already paper thin, but that will sink it in my opinion. Wonder what Rush and Inhofe will say then. Probably just ignore the issue, which is fine with me.

  24. Bob Wright says:

    Another variable changing will be aerosols and global dimming diminshing as human activities decline during the global recession. That volcano in Alaska is making some, however.

    Is there any connection between the still thin ozone layer allowing more UV through and warming? The ozone layer is thinnest at the poles, and the time frame is somewhat coincidental with the growth and decline of the ozone hole over Anarctica.

  25. Lamont says:

    I created this graph on the solar cycles awhile ago:

    The number in between the cycles is the number of days in the solar minimum. I think I eyeballed the start of the cycle and went until you got a month with no spotless days (and since the solar cycle tends to come back very quickly there’s a rapid transition from a solar minimum to months with no spotless days). This solar minimum only looks odd when looking at the previous 70 or so. Looking back further, it doesn’t look like there’s any reason to panic just yet (a Maunder minimum is also only worth about 2W/m^2 which would stabilize the climate where it is now, but a business as usual addition of a few more W/m^2 of carbon forcing would re-establish the net energy imbalance).

    We’re currently up to about 600 days in this minimum, which is still lower in comparison to the solar minimums from 1875 to around 1915 — and that isn’t even the dalton minimum, much less the maunder minimum.

    And my bets are on a pretty strong El Nino starting in 2010 setting records. The ENSO cycle has been recharged by all the La Nina activity. Then solar cycle 24 should be starting in force by the end of 2010 if it doesn’t start earlier, but those effects lag by a year or two, so it’ll be 2011/2012 before the climate responds.

    If solar cycle 24 starts this year and we get a strong El Nino, 2010/2011 could be very, very hot.

  26. Lamont says:

    Alaskan volcanoes don’t generate the volume of aerosols to be climactically significant…