Bad News For California: NOAA Lowers Chance Of El Niño To 65%, Predicts A Weak One


warming (red) waters in the Pacific that indicate El Nino. Via NASA/JPL.

El Nino

El Niño visualization (via NOAA)

The best chance for ending the brutal California drought — a big El Niño — seems to be disappearing.

Back in the spring, you may recall, NOAA said the chances of an El Niño developing this year were at almost 4 out of 5. And there was some evidence suggesting it might be a strong El Niño, the kind that generally brings a lot of rain to California.

But earlier this week NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) released its monthly “El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion,” which proclaimed, “The chance of El Niño has decreased to about 65% during the Northern Hemisphere fall and early winter.” And if we do see one, it’s likely to be either weak or moderate.

An El Niño is “characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific,” as NOAA explains. That contrasts with the unusually cold temps in the Equatorial Pacific during a La Niña. Both are associated with extreme weather around the globe.

So what happened to El Niño this year? NOAA explains that “most of the Niño indices” of ocean surface temperature for different regions of the Equatorial Pacific dropped toward the end of July.

The result: Instead of looking like the ideal El Niño image above, as it started to earlier this year (see here), it starting looking more like this:


Recent ocean temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific are not as warm (red) as would indicate a robust El Niño is forming. Via NASA/JPL.

“That El Niño that was really coming on like gangbusters in the spring has virtually disappeared at this point,” in the words of NASA climatologist Bill Patzert. “Unless we see a miraculous resurgence, any hope for an El Niño soaking [California] this winter is pretty much in the rear-view mirror.”

Here’s what NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center thinks will happen:

Over the last month, model forecasts have slightly delayed the El Niño onset, with most models now indicating the onset during July-September, with the event continuing into early 2015. A strong El Niño is not favored in any of the ensemble averages, and slightly more models call for a weak event rather than a moderate event. At this time, the consensus of forecasters expects El Niño to emerge during August-October and to peak at weak strength during the late fall and early winter…. The chance of El Niño has decreased to about 65%….

It’s worth noting the Australian Bureau of Meteorology concluded last week that “the chance of El Niño developing in 2014 is approximately 50%, which remains significant at double the normal likelihood of an event.”

Finally, El Niños are generally the hottest years on record, since the regional warming adds to the underlying global warming trend. Even so, June of this year was the hottest June on record. May was the hottest May. For reasons only scientists can explain, the globe just keeps warming….