NOAA: Fourth warmest May on record, model predicts a long and strong El Ni±o

Fast on the heels of the fifth warmest April on record, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center reports:

Based on preliminary data, the globally averaged combined land and sea surface temperature was the fourth warmest on record for May, the fifth warmest for boreal spring (March-May), and tied with 2003 as the sixth warmest January-May year-to-date period.

And no, I don’t think the monthly data tell us much about the climate.  But I know reporting it annoys the deniers.  More seriously, the El Ni±o-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) seems to be heating up, although I’m told it takes a few months before El Ni±o conditions would translates into warmer global temperatures.

You may recall that earlier this month, NOAA put out an “El Ni±o Watch,” so record temperatures are coming and this will be the hottest decade on record. This is based on an analysis of all the dynamical models they use to making their forecast:

For clarity’s sake:  “El Ni±o and La Ni±a are officially defined as sustained sea surface temperature anomalies of magnitude greater than 0.5°C across the central tropical Pacific Ocean. When the condition is met for a period of less than five months, it is classified as El Ni±o or La Ni±a conditions; if the anomaly persists for five months or longer.”

Now here is where things get a little interesting.  The figure above is the full collection of models they use for their “official” monthly ESNO forecast update.  But they also release a weekly update, which “is available to the public to inform their own decisions.”  Here is the update of NCEP’s (National Centers for Environmental Prediction) own CFS (Climate Forecast System) model issued with their June 15 weekly update, “ENSO Cycle: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions“:

That would be one big El Ni±o (and you can read the weekly update to see just how it stacks up against other recent El Ni±os).  I must apply this caveat, which NOAA emailed me:

You’re correct that the CFS is predicting a strong El Nino…. however, it is just one of many dynamical models that we consider when making our forecast.  Right now, the CFS predicts the highest amplitude event of all of our models and should be taken in the context of the many forecasts (both dynamical and statistical).  Unfortunately, forecasts of ENSO intensity, especially during transitions, are quite tricky.  There are some clear-cut cases, such as 1997-98, where there are telltale signals of a strong event.  At this point, there is no observational evidence that we are looking at anything approaching the 1997-98 event.  At this point, the forecast team is is increasingly confident that an El Nino will develop, but not confident to make a statement about intensity.   But please keep reading our weekly and monthly discussions for more insight as about the predicted evolution of the upcoming (probable) El Nino.

So with that caveat in mind, we can very safely say “this will be the hottest decade in recorded history by far,” and also that we might just be looking at the kind of El Ni±o that realizes NASA’s January prediction:

Given our expectation of the next El Ni±o beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance.

Stay tuned.

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14 Responses to NOAA: Fourth warmest May on record, model predicts a long and strong El Ni±o

  1. Bob Wright says:

    Toss in overdue Solar Cycle 24 activity and reduced aerosol dimming from the recession, and we could have quite a heat wave.

  2. Aaron says:

    On a side note, here’s something to watch as the SST ramps up due to an El Nino this summer. This link is to a bleaching stress map across the globe. Since coral bleaching is highly correlated with thermal stress, sustained periods of high water temps lead to coral bleaching.

  3. Lamont says:

    According to NASA we’ve been averaging a +0.492C anomaly so far this year, and to beat 1998 we would only need to average +0.617C for the next 7 months, which would be an +0.125C effect due to the transition to ENSO warm conditions, and seems entirely reasonable.

    If that happens it’ll be interesting to watch all the thrashing around it produces when the fact of a new temperature record hits all the denialists beliefs that
    we’re in a new SC24 “Maunder Minimum”…

  4. Omega Centauri says:

    But, all I hear from conservatives, is the world is cooling off! This lie has been pushed so hard, that manyof these folks fear the iceage is about to return.

  5. Deep Climate says:

    I think it unlikely that 2009 will be a record-breaking year. But 2010 is likely to be very warm indeed by all accounts.

    For those interested, I have done a comparison of smoothed observations and IPCC projections. Observations are somewhat lower than projections, but well within reasonable confidence intervals, despite what you have read from contrarians like Pat Michaels and Lord Monckton. And, of course, the 2000s are significantly warmer than the 1990s.

  6. jorleh says:

    Thanks to Joe for the most informative climate change blog in the world and Happy Midsummer!

  7. BBHY says:

    How is it we can have an El Nino effect in the summer? My understanding is that it occurs around late December, hence the name.

    I live in the mid-Atlantic, and we are having the same sort of very wet weather that we normally see during an El Nino. In fact, this is about as wet as it’s ever been, with rain almost every day now for months. If it was winter we would be having the best ski season ever.

  8. dhogaza says:

    …hits all the denialists beliefs that
    we’re in a new SC24 “Maunder Minimum”…

    Guess they’ll have to call it the “Little Cool Water Age” rather than the “New Little Ice Age”, eh? :)

    How is it we can have an El Nino effect in the summer? My understanding is that it occurs around late December, hence the name.

    The prediction is for possible El Niño conditions “later this year”, so not inconsistent.

  9. dhogaza says:

    BBHY, joe clipped the el niño definition in his post above;

    When the condition is met for a period of less than five months, it is classified as El Niño or La Niña conditions; if the anomaly persists for five months or longer, it is classified as an El Niño or La Niña episode.

    So they won’t call it a full-blown El Niño unless it persists for five months after the transition they expect this summer, and since the weather effects normally follow some months after the switch starts (which perhaps is where the five month persistence before it’s labeled an “episode” comes from? guessing), you can see it’s all consistent with the “El Niño” name …

  10. Lamont says:

    Here’s the frequency count of the 3 month ‘season’ that the El Nino’s going back to 1950 started with:

    0 DJF
    0 JFM
    0 FMA
    1 MAM
    6 AMJ
    2 MJJ
    1 JJA
    3 JAS
    3 ASO
    0 SON
    1 OND
    0 NDJ

    If we do transition to an El Nino it will likely be in the MJJ or JJA 3-month periods which is consistent with the starts of previous El Nino’s. March was about neutral SSTs, June looks on track to average around +0.5C, July would need to be very warm to get a start in MJJ, but if June+Aug are both +0.5C then the El Nino would start in JJA. I’d say a JJA ‘official’ start looks likely.

    Once the El Nino’s start, they all tend to persist through the next December/January and usually into spring/summer months.

    And I’m going to throw caution to the wind and bet that 2009 will break the 1998 temperature record on the NASA series, although maybe not on every measurement series. I think 2010 will be across-the-board convincingly hot as we have El Nino-to-neutral conditions along with SC24 warming up.

  11. Paul K says:

    t doesn’t look good for the ice… Temperatures anomaly for May is shown on this map:

    Notice that Greenland, Alaska, and western Siberia areas are running 4-5 C above the baseline average. Not coincidentally, both coasts of Greenland melted off fast, and open water is already present along much of the coast of Siberia.

    The colder than normal temperatures this year in central northern Canada, seems to have delayed the ice melt in Hudson’s Bay, but the ice pack at these lower latitudes should melt out fast in the coming weeks, so expect the ice extent to drop faster than normal.

    Given the huge loss in thicker multiyear ice the last two years, the ice pack is bad shape. The comments I have read on denier blogs like WUWT, that said ice pack is back to normal, and the ice pack is recovering, seem to be pretty far off the mark.

  12. James -ner says:

    I can’t wait for this winter. El Nino’s sometimes contribute to more favorable conditions for Nor’easters big snows. I guess the 1997-1998 El Nino was an exception. In Allentown Pennsylvania on February 11, 1983 we had the record 24 inches or snow in 24 hours during a strong El Nino that winter. I’m not saying that El Nino was the cause, but it would be interesting to see what happens this winter.