NOAA Says ‘Chances Increase For El Niño’: That May Be Good for U.S. In Short Term, But Would Lead To Rapid Warming

It’s looking increasingly likely we’ll see an El Niño starting this summer. If so, next year will almost certainly be the hottest year on record.

The silver lining is that climatologist Kevin Trenberth says an El Niño would probably be a change “for the better” for the U.S. “in the short term” since it might mean a weaker hurricane season and some relief for the devastating drought that is slamming the Southwest.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows just how widespread the drought is:

So what’s coming? NOAA’s’s Climate Prediction Center says in its monthly “El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion“:

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch

Synopsis: Chances increase for El Niño beginning in July-September 2012.

Let’s look at the global and national implications.

Globally, as I discussed last month, NASA said that the development of an El Niño this year would lead to “rapid warming.” That’s because the supposedly slow rate of recent global warming was actually due to the deepest solar minimum in a century combined with that the fact that “the cool La Niña phase of the cyclically variable Southern Oscillation of tropical temperatures has been dominant in the past three years.”

With global warming continuing unabated and the sun coming out of that atypical minimum, an El Niño would make a new global record all but inevitable. After all, we just had the warmest La Niña year on record:

Global average surface temperatures during El Niño and La Niña years.

As NASA wrote in its January analysis, “Global Temperature in 2011, Trends, and Prospects”:

We conclude that the slowdown of warming is likely to prove illusory, with more rapid warming appearing over the next few years.

At a national level, an El Niño this summer may be a good thing, at least for a while. Kevin E. Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained what an El Niño would mean for us:

The developing El Nino is apt to change weather patterns across the United States and perhaps in the short term, for the better. The hot dry pattern that has prevailed has the potential to be changed as the North American monsoon kicks in in July to provide some relief in the Southwest.  It also acts to shift hurricane activity to the Pacific, making for a less active Atlantic hurricane season. The strongest effects are in the winter half year, however. Look for higher global mean temperatures over the next year.

Certainly we need relief from the drought — and a less active hurricane season is always a good thing.

El Niño and La Niña are typically defined as sustained sea surface temperature anomalies (positive and negative respectively) greater than 0.5°C across the central tropical Pacific Ocean (the so-called Nino3.4 region). You can read the basics about ENSO here.

Right now, the Australian government’s Bureau of Meteorology reports, the Nino3.4 sea surface temperature index just shot up to 0.7°C — a 0.3°C jump in the last two weeks:

ENSO Monitoring Graph

If the index were to merely stay at this level for a few months, that would be sufficient for an El Niño.

NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Prediction Climate Forecast System (version 2), however, projects a pretty sizable El Niño by year’s end:

Stay tuned. The heat is on.

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26 Responses to NOAA Says ‘Chances Increase For El Niño’: That May Be Good for U.S. In Short Term, But Would Lead To Rapid Warming

  1. BBHY says:

    Personally, I hope the temperature hits 110 in Washington, DC, because that what it will take for congress to to recognize climate change.

    Perhaps that would even make President Obama overcome his fear of even mentioning those two words.

  2. EDpeak says:

    Thanks for reposting that blue-red-grey “anomaly” graphic..intersting how the warmest and even second warmest La Nina are both warmer than the great majority of “plain vanilla” (gray) years, years without El Nino and without La Nina…highlights the idea of “a new normal”

    Speaking of “new normals” and speakign of NOAA, did this blog post last June (2011) the item below? You probably did! But I didn’t see it until just today:

    June 29, 2011

    “According to the 1981-2010 normals to be released by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on July 1, temperatures across the United States were on average, approximately 0.5 degree F warmer than the 1971-2000 time period.

    “Normals serve as a 30 year baseline average of important climate variables that are used to understand average climate conditions at any location and serve as a consistent point of reference. The new normals update the 30-year average..”

    “…In the continental United States, every state’s annual maximum and minimum temperature increased on average. “The climate of the 2000s is about 1.5 degree F warmer than the 1970s, so we would expect the updated 30-year normals to be warmer,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., NCDC director.”

    (actually I think I do remember seeing that graphic from NOAA’s page, somewhere on this blog, but only glanced at it almong too many other good posts..)

    I don’t think 110F in D.C. would make a difference..I mean I might joke about that myself too but it’s about the institutions within which politicians work..change the institutions to be more responsive to people, and even with a temporary cooliing you’ll see better policy

    On the other hand, keep the same institutional pressures and anti-democratic legal-economic-political nexus of Korporate Kapitalism and even 120 F heat will not result in anything fact would result in witch hungs on gay marriage, immigrants, etc etc (and lucrative no-bid contracts for geo engineering maybe, for some companies while continuing to subsidize coal and oil and fracking..) The System Must Be Changed.

    Another World Is Possible Necessary!

  3. Joan Savage says:

    The last El Nino in 2009-2010 coincided with major drought conditions outside the US. What a gloomy thought.

  4. Michael Stefan says:

    Also, global temperatures seem to be already responding – every month so far this year has been warmer than the last, in a strikingly linear increase that I don’t recall seeing before (scroll down to where they show year to date temperatures):

    If June continued this pattern, it is likely to be another record-breaker (per NASA, and maybe NOAA too).

  5. Jeff Poole says:

    Bleh – that first El Nino should read La Nina – It’s 9am here and I need coffee!

  6. Paul Magnus says:

    Just imagine when la Nina yrs are as warm as 2010!

    So is the rate of GW increasing significantly now?
    Must be as sea level rise is accelerating by quite a bit!

  7. Paul Magnus says:

    Actually there must be a lag. So the increased rate of SLR now must be associated with the warming of how many years previous? 2, 5 or 10?

  8. Michael Stefan says:

    One must remember though that the stall in SLR in 2010-11 was due to record rainfall over continents, as well as the strong La Nina; trends are currently towards an El Nino with significant droughts.

  9. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    This coming El Nino has a different feel to it. Sorry I cannot explain that better, but as an example just see how the forecasts are changing. Even a few weeks ago not all models were predicting an El Nino and those that were tended towards a week one.

    I am puzzled more than worried.

  10. Toby says:

    I hae been enjoying myself thinking of hapless Congressmen stuck in their homes without electric power, with the contents of their freezing starting to smell.

    One cannot think of the impending El Nino without foreboding. While it may end US droughts and wierd weather, it means acute discomfort and maybe death for tens of thousands others.

  11. Tonet says:

    As well as an abscence of strong solar activity and El Niño there are 2 other current means of solar radiation reduction. SO2 and long lasting Jet Contrails. Both have been demonstrated to be cooling the planet masking the true temperatures.

  12. caroza says:

    It’s bad and bad for us (South Africa) – we had several days over 45C and a couple over 50C in the drier parts of the Western Cape in 2010, and the “cooler” days weren’t much better. El Nino means hot and dry for us, so we’re going to fry this summer. Maybe you could send us some of your more recalcitrant politicians during February and March – we could find them some tin-roofed accommodation without benefit of air-con (which is how most people here have to live) and see if they get the message.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The political pathocrats live in air-conditioned luxury. The plebs sweating would only amuse them. Empathy is absent.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    El Ninos and La Ninas will no longer be as they have been, and an entirely new climate regime will rapidly emerge.

  15. Icarus says:

    My understanding of ENSO is that during El Niño periods, the Earth is losing heat to space (via the atmosphere) faster than during La Niña periods. So, although El Niño periods are hotter according to surface and lower troposphere temperature series, the real heating of the climate system is going on during La Niña periods – that should be when ocean heat content is rising the fastest. In the long run it makes little difference anyway, as this natural variability around the AGW trend averages out over periods of decades, and as far as I know there is no sign of any reduction in this warming trend.

  16. catman306 says:

    Joe, An article, or link, about how dynamic systems in the climate may rapidly and unpredictably shift from one ‘stable’ position to another would surely be appreciated. I think Mulga Mumblebrain’s point is spot on. Many of the multi-year cycles in the climate may be, or will be, unpredictable during the next few years.

  17. dana1981 says:

    An El Nino does look likely. If one forms, unless there’s a major volcanic eruption, 2013 will almost certainly break the annual temp record. There’s even still a chance 2012 could break the record, though it’s a bit of a stretch.

  18. Guest says:

    Have you all seen this graph before:

    It looks at the warming trend seperately in El Ninio, La Nina and neutral years and shows a consistant rate of warming in all three groups.

    If it’s correct that next year is going to be an El Ninio than this data would deffinately suggest that we should see a new record for wrold ave temp.

  19. Joan Savage says:

    The politicians can afford household diesel generators to make sure their freezers keep freezing and AC keeps running.

  20. Joan Savage says:

    I realize this is beyond skeptical, out there with the ‘unknown unknowns.’ The research on how heavier monsoons erode the Himalayas is revealing how climate change could shift continental masses. Change in ocean temperature has shifted the currents and the locations of the masses of water. All that monumental shifting of mass could affect tectonic plate instability, and that could increase frequencies of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. As such, it could be a gargantuan, unreliable, negative feedback of anthropogenic climate change.

  21. David F. says:

    Even without El Nino, current global temperatures are running at near record highs. The noted climate change doubt manufacturer, Dr. Roy Spencer, released the UAH satellite-based global temperature estimate for June. It shows temperatures were 0.37C above the 1981-2010 mean. This was third highest, behind only 1998 and 2010. Those years were both coming off a substantial El Ninos, whereas this year is coming out of a La Nina. By comparison, the anomaly for June 1997 (when we were entering the 1997-98 El Nino) was -0.05C below the 1981-2010 mean.

  22. Michael Stefan says:

    Check out the snowcover anomaly for June – it totally smashed the record set in 2010 by over a million square kilometers (which makes me wonder even more just how hot June will be when the surface data comes out):

    I predict that in the next few years, we will see the anomaly stop falling – because there will be no snow left by June, and certainly July and August.

  23. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I seem to remember that greater tectonic activity was predicted by the Royal Society? ME

  24. libcuz says:

    The summer recess allows the politicians to excape the summer heat/humidity of Washington DC. Obama will be campaigning and be oblivious as usual.