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NOAA says “El Ni±o arrives; Expected to Persist through Winter 2009-10″ — and that means record temperatures are coming and this will be the hottest decade on record

By Joe Romm on July 9, 2009 at 4:09 pm

"NOAA says “El Ni±o arrives; Expected to Persist through Winter 2009-10″ — and that means record temperatures are coming and this will be the hottest decade on record"


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NOAA scientists today announced the arrival of El Ni±o, a climate phenomenon with a significant influence on global weather….

NOAA expects this El Ni±o to continue developing during the next several months, with further strengthening possible. The event is expected to last through winter 2009-10…..

In its monthly El Ni±o diagnostics discussion today [click here], scientists with the NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center noted weekly eastern equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures were at least 1.0 degree C above average at the end of June. The most recent El Ni±o occurred in 2006.

Today’s NOAA announcement is not news to CP readers (see June 4′s Breaking: NOAA puts out “El Ni±o Watch” and June 17′s, “NOAA: Fourth warmest May on record, model predicts a long and strong El Ni±o“).  But since it is news for everyone else, I will review what this means, updating my earlier analysis with new figures.  Regular readers can skip this post.

This announcement is a big deal from the perspective of heating up global temperatures and cooling off denier talking points.  After all, the La Ni±a conditions over the past 18 months helped temporarily mute the strong human-caused warming signal, allowing the global warming deniers to push their nonsensical global cooling meme with the help of the status quo media (see “Media enable denier spin 1: A (sort of) cold January doesn’t mean climate stopped warming“).

NOAA enso-El Nino

Figure 3:  Area-averaged upper-ocean heat content anomalies (°C) in the equatorial Pacific (5°N-5°S, 180º-100ºW).

Remember that back in January, NASA had predicted:

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.

ENSO doesn’t change the overall warming trend, but it is a short-term modulation, what NASA labels the largest contributor to the “natural dynamical variability” of the climate system.  How are El Ni±o and La Ni±a defined?

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.

You can read the basics about ENSO here.  The following historical data are from NOAA’s weekly ENSO update

As the planet warms decade by decade thanks to human emissions of greenhouse gases, global temperature records tend to be set in El Ni±o years, like 2005, 1998, and 2007, whereas sustained La Ni±as tend to cause relatively cooler years.

Human-caused global warming is so strong, however, that as NASA explained, it took a serious La Ni±a, plus unusually sustained low levels of solar irradiance, to make 2008 as cool as it was.  Yet, notwithstanding the global warming deniers and the status quo media, 2008 wasn’t actually cool.  Indeed, 2008 was almost 0.1°C warmer than the decade of the 1990s averaged as a whole.

So if we have an El Ni±o, then, as NASA says, record global temperatures are all but inevitable.  And this brings us back to NOAA’s prediction today [boldface in original]:

Synopsis: El Ni±o conditions will continue to develop and are expected to last through the
Northern Hemisphere Winter 2009-2010.

… Model forecasts of SST anomalies for the Ni±o-3.4 region (Fig. 5) reflect a growing consensus for the continued development of El Ni±o (+0.5°C or greater in the Ni±o-3.4 region). However, the spread of the models indicates disagreement over the eventual strength of El Ni±o (+0.5°C to +2.0°C).

Current conditions and recent trends favor the continued development of a weak-to-moderate strength El Ni±o into the Northern Hemisphere Fall 2009, with further strengthening possible thereafter.

Figure 5. Forecasts of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies for the Ni±o 3.4 region (5°N-5°S, 120°W-170°W). Figure courtesy of the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society.  Figure updated 15 June 2009.

A hot summer and fall “” how timely that would be for debating a climate bill!

Will we set a record this year for global temperature?  Too soon to say, especially since the strong La Ni±a this winter will no doubt partly offset whatever impact the El Ni±o has.  More likely is that 2010 is the record, since there is typically a delay of a few months between ENSO changes and changes in global temps.

And not that there was any realistic chance global temperatures would collapse this year, but now it is quite safe to say that “this will be the hottest decade in recorded history by far.”  The 2000s are on track to be nearly 0.2°C warmer than the 1990s.  And that temperature jump is especially worrisome since the 1990s were only 0.14°C warmer than the 1980s.

Once we set the global temperature record, then the “no warming in 10 years” meme will die “” at least until the next La Ni±a or major volcano and/or general lapse in coverage by the status quo media, as the “best climate blog you aren’t reading” depicted with this figure:

Global Warming ends every decade or so ...

It’s always cooling, except, of course, when it’s not.

Related Posts:

Breaking: Senate EPW panel won’t take up climate bill until September — Boxer

So how do you like the new redesign?

43 Responses to NOAA says “El Ni±o arrives; Expected to Persist through Winter 2009-10″ — and that means record temperatures are coming and this will be the hottest decade on record

  1. Adam says:

    Once we set the global temperature record, then the “no warming in 10 years” meme will die

    Unfortunately, I think you give denialists too much credit. Afterall, it’s not like 2005 stopped them from saying “global warming stopped in 1998.”

  2. Brewster says:

    By 2015 it’ll be “no warming in 4 years”…

    After all, warming stops and starts every time ENSO changes…

  3. Michael hauber says:

    There are four temperature series. I think it is highly likely that some of them will set a record in 2010, and others will not. In particular Uah and RSS were roughly 0.5 degrees above trend in 1998. With 12 years of warming at 0.02 a year, this means that an El Nino would have to cause temps 0.26 degrees above trend which is far from certain.

    So plenty of scope for some blogs/news outlets to trumpet ‘Warmest year on record ever’ picking whichever temp series breaks the record, and for contrary blogs to trumpet ‘El Nino failed to break the record as alarmists predicted’ based on whichever temp series does not.

  4. caerbannog says:

    I predict that we’ll be hearing “no warming in 6 months” sometime next Winter…

  5. dhogaza says:

    Warming, cooling, blah blah … am I the only one to notice the nice new design for the site?

    Looks good!

  6. Ben Lieberman says:

    The design looks good: as a skier I’ll miss la Nina.

  7. Kastanj says:

    If the climate didn’t get any hotter then the governments wouldn’t spend any money on it, nor would they pay attention to it. Put 2 and 2 together people – The climate is biased, Al Gore is fat and you are all religious zealots.

  8. BBHY says:

    On top of the El Nino, the sun cycle is turning up as well. We are going to probably have a record breaker in 2010, and a very warm 2011.

    That might matter to the media and politicians. To those who follow the climate science it doesn’t matter a bit. We know that a year or two of higher or lower temperature doesn’t change the overall upward trend at all. It doesn’t matter to the deniers either, since facts and scientific evidence that doesn’t fit their views is simply ignored.

  9. Dorothy says:

    Joe, I’ve checked out most of your links and can’t find anything on the effect of a prolonged El Nino on global climate. U.W. professor William H. Calvin recently said that during the last strong El Nino, a severe drought lasting for two years occurred in the Amazon rainforest, and that if this drought had persisted for three years, the whole rainforest might have begun to die. The loss of the Amazon rainforest would be catastrophic: massive amounts of carbon would be released, adding to the excess of over 300 billion metric tonnes we already have in our atmosphere.

    Do you know of any predictions for the duration of this El Nino that extend beyond a one year period? Or do we all just have to keep our fingers crossed? And hope that within the next few months world governments will start taking climate changes seriously, which means getting to zero emissions ASAP, as well as developing safe ways to remove that excess carbon from the atmosphere.

  10. Eric L says:

    If we do get a record breaking year this year or next (and it’s only record breaking if it is record breaking in every data set), I’m sure deniers will know that you can’t read too much into one record breaking year and it was because of El Nino anyway. It’s the cooling trend that immediately follows that matters.

    As for the odds of a record this year, I don’t know, what months of this year have been record breakers so far?

    By the way, you do realize that denier blogs will be all over this post if this turns out to be the third hottest year on record?

  11. Will says:

    It is frankly ubelievable how the “cooling in the last 10 years” has spread like wildfire amoung deniers and even non-deniers. Are they so stupid not to look at La Nina. It’s just another talking point for them I guess.

  12. MarkB says:

    “Once we set the global temperature record, then the “no warming in 10 years” meme will die”

    I second Adam. 2005 was a global temperature record in the 2 surface records (NCDC and GISS) but the excuse from deniers was that Hadcrut (which doesn’t take into account Arctic temperatures) and the satellite record (which is even more heavily influenced by ENSO events, particularly strong ones) still showed 1998 as warmer. Satellite (lower troposphere) still might not break 1998 for awhile unless el Nino turns out to be fairly strong. It doesn’t matter that any statistical analysis reveals a warming trend, as long as there is some record year in some dataset from x years ago, we will see that year being used as a baseline and “no warming since x” still used as an argument. Remember – their target audience is always the general public.

    If a record is set in all data products, we still might see “no statistically-significant warming” used by comparing the 2nd warmest year from x years ago from some dataset with the recent record-breaking year. This argument of course can be used in most decadal chunks, even during periods of steep trends.

    In addition, they still have the “surface record is bad” pseudo-argument. Combine this with stories of cold weather somewhere on Earth (not too hard to find) and their political message remains fairly strong, even if scientifically pathetic.

  13. Sasparilla says:

    Joe, I was wondering if that eruption of the Russian volcano that is giving us these unbelievable (in the Northern Hemisphere) sunsets will affect the temp for the next year or so? Any thoughts from the scientific community on that?

    I just watched the lighting of the dust way up there, completely covering the sky, this evening in IL. It reminds me alot of the shows we got from Mt Pinatubo way back when and I was wondering if there are expectations of temporary climate impacts from it? I was thinking Pinatubo reduced global temps by more than 1.0c at the time, temporarily.
    Which made me think we better get ahead of this, if it will impact temps, before the deniers grab those effects (if they are noticable) as more “proof”.

  14. Donald B says:


    I think you inadvertently left off the last part of the El Niño-La Niña definition: ” , it is classified as an El Niño or La Niña episode”, which brings out the difference between “conditions” (slight short-lived deviations from the average) and “episode” (longer-lived and sometimes greater deviations).

  15. mauri pelto says:

    What is surprising is how fast this la nina which ended in April converted to an El Nino. The forward looking models of just a month ago were evenly split on El Nino or no, not so anymore.

  16. Kevin says:

    Let’s not totally jump on deniers for cherry picking two of the four main temperature records favorable to their cause… aren’t we arguably doing the same with our two?

    [JR: No. First off, the satellite data shows warming. Second, turning the satellite data into temperature data over the relevant part of the atmosphere isn't easy -- and the folks in charge of it have a history of bad analysis that just happened to minimize the temperature signal. Third, we live on the surface, so the surface data is the best to use.]

  17. Lauren says:

    well I am in 8th grade and I just learne about EL Nino. I know what it does. so I am ready for it.

  18. Jason says:

    You should read: Climate Change Reconsidered: The 2009 Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC)

  19. nate rensland says:

    helloe im 23 years old ive been studing climate change since i was in 5th grade and have kept track of the winters and summers and ocean tempt. change. Indeed the goverment needs to implement a new bill to inforce zero emmisions and to replinish the rainforest, and other timberlands, its time the g8 summit and countries get together and come up with a solution. Otherwise i would give a verry grim outcome of our world, as the emmsions become thicker and the slim amount of timber land dewindells we will incounter heavy storms, less rain and so forth, mother nature may try and counter act and may have a climate change to try and reverse the effect. if you would like to talk more about this email me at natescustomcarworks@yahoo.com

  20. nate rensland says:

    on another note instead of cutting down tree after tree, replnish our forest replant, and outlaw timber cutting. Replace lumber with marijuana (not to smoke) but this plant acutally is a stronger than lumber and can be made into a number of products. i know the goverment would never do this but i thought i would throw it out there it would also replace oil and many many other products…… ask our new president http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/26/open-for-questions-obama_n_178764.html?page=5&show_comment_id=22362565#comment_22362565

  21. Chris Piper says:

    I have been reading that accuweather is saying we are going to have a colder and snower winter in 2009 and 2010, then 2008-2009. Here in Rhode Island we had 53 inchs of snow last winter; well above normal. The nwa says that we a going to have a milder winter, due the El Nino.
    Accuweather says they believe that the El Nino will weaken, and not be a major roll in the weather. The NWS says that the opposite will happen, and strenghten through the winter to a moderate El Nino; and the possability of a stong El Nino. First, why the two different predictions? I thought that El Nino meant a ‘warmer’ pattern. In RI, Mass., Conn, and Northern New England it has been a cold and snowy winter the last two years. PA and the Mid-Atlantic states have had two mild winters. From avaiable data, anyone here have a felling how this winter will shape up?

    [JR: El Nino looks to be at most a moderate one. May last a while, though. It has different impacts in different parts of the country. I'd trust NWS more.]

  22. dontquitdayjob says:

    If we are forcasting a milder winter than how can we be seeing snow in the midwest in early OCTOBER! Expect a record setting cold and snowy winter!

  23. idunno says:

    I just wonder about all of these record cold temps–New Zealand has massive snow/stranded motorists, record early school closing in Idaho, freeze warning in Texas and Oklahoma, earliest opening for ski resorts in the west and I’m freezing in the mid-atlantic dreaming about Indian summer. It seems like it’s cold all over, some warming is sounding pretty good right now.

    [JR: We try to avoid what it "seems" like to people who follow websites that highlight spots of cold. We're experiencing record temps globally now.]

  24. Frosty Balls says:

    El Nino?? yeah right. This is the coldest Summer and fall I’ve ever seen in the midwest. Something is seriously jacked up.

  25. Brandon says:

    As a Skier in the Sierras and Rockies, bring El Nino on! It’ll mean Sierra Cement but there will be plenty of it!

    Of course global warming is generally a bad thing.

  26. Chris Piper says:

    did anyone see the noaa winter forcast today? Can anyone tell me more about the NAO, and what it means. Thanks.

  27. Leif says:

    dontquitdayjob and others trying to understand effects of El Nino. I am not a scientist but I have extensive weather experience having spent a lifetime on or near the ocean. If I may, allow me to give a quick tutorial.
    First the difference of temperature between El Nino and La Nina is small. Only a few degrees C. Three degrees is a big one. Hardly noticeable to most folks without a thermometer. However the effects can be large because of the way the weather patterns can be affected. Jet streams can be shifted slightly bringing cold Arctic air to areas that might not of received it otherwise, for instance. A slight magnification of the amplitude of the pressure ridge could also shove a storm system on a different course bringing rain or snow to areas that might not receive it during normal conditions. Minor pressure changes can alter wind patters slightly causing profound environmental changes. Notice the climate induced New Jersey size “dead zone’ produced off the otherwise pristine Oregon and Washington coast. (Recent post on CP) Here in the NW , largely because we are close to the water, we tend to be a bit warmer with less snow pack because one degree temperature change can move the snow line quite a ways up the mountains. In addition the storm tracks tend to move further south so it is not unusual for California to get rain that in other years might of fallen in this area. East of the Cascades, only a hundred miles as the crow flies, we tend to get clearer air that is colder and even bring artic air down from the interior of BC. Compound those variables with the fact that the overall temperature is rising by a degree or so and we are in uncharted territory. As Joe mentioned early. The effects are very different in different parts of the nation as well as the world. Again one needs to be cognizant of the difference between “weather” and “climate”. On top of all that the further east you go the less effects Nino might have and be over powered by local anomalies, Lake effects snow in Buffalo comes to mind. Again weather and climate.
    All of the above applies to a degree of cimate change in spades!

  28. Joe says:

    i think el nino can make warmer summers yes but during winter can also make temps swing more for some very cold air on average yes el’s are warmer so we should look forward to warmer temps as far as la nino’s les temp swing and more cooler temps that is what i say am i wrong????????

  29. Brian says:

    I live close to the Detroit area, and 1997-98 and 1998-99 seemed to be the last snowless years that we had. They were very warm winters for us. I remember it was dry and sunny most of the days during those winters, and few daylight hours below freezing. Since 2000 we’ve had lots of snow and it was freezing cold. I hope this El Nino is similar or warmer than 1997-99.

  30. Brandon says:

    0.5 degree change? Could some of this be from recording error?

  31. Jeff says:

    El Niño, associated with a warming of mid-Pacific ocean waters and with the negative phase of the SOI or southern oscillation index (lower than normal atmospheric pressure in the central South Pacific as compared to northern Australia), is only one of the factors involved in cyclical climate events. There is well known correlation between El Niño and such things as above average winter rainfall in the southern U.S., warmer and less snowy winters in the northern plains, drier winters in the Pacific northwest, etc., there are other factors which make each El Niño event distinct. Where I live in the Northeast the North Atlantic Oscillation (pressure variation between the Iceland / Greenland areal and subtropical Atlantic Azores area) has just as much if not more impact, and the two likely interact. Recently the NAO has been extremely negative (persistent high pressure over the North Atlantic as compared to the Azores) creating such effects as a blocking high pressure ridge over eastern Canada that pulls very cold air down into the eastern third of the US, and making for very chilly weather in much of Europe.
    I would be interested to see research as to how the SOI (and thus El Niño/La Niña) correlate to the NAO phenomena, and how the two of them interact to create patters of weather, particularly across North America and Europe.
    As to some of the earlier comments here regarding “global warming”, the subject of El Niño and related cyclical events really have nothing to do with anthropogenic climate change. El Niño/La Niña are cyclical events and are very extreme compared to the minute, incremental changes in the overall temperature of the troposphere associated with anthropogenic climate alteration.


  32. roy says:

    I live 7 years in Norway now at 61 degrees north.
    Never experienced a cold winter as i had so far.
    Hope my eucalyptus tree survives in the garden, like it did the last 5 years……
    What effects has el nino on Norway? a country as big as california…

  33. I am a charter boat captain in Washington State. And climate change is no more evident in the oceans then any were else. I have seen major changes in the Pacific over the last 30 years. One of the indicators is an expansion of species not normally to be found in certain areas of the Pacific. I have noticed a wider range of exotic tropical fish like Mahi- Mahi ranging further and further north. Over the last 5 years more and more Humboldt squid have been visiting the northwest. In 2009 the amount of this squid were so large and widespread its scary. Hundreds of square miles of these predators in waters they normally do not inhabit. The impact on indigenous species in these waters such as salmon and rockfish will be impacted to a factor that nobody knows.
    Marlin, Mako sharks, mahi-mahi, California yellowtail and yellowfin tuna in Washington state have been caught and are becoming more and more common. In Addition pelicans in the last five years have started migrating here in the summer and every year they are earlier and earlier. The planet is crying and people are not listening merely because it is inconvenient.

  34. DrGenovese says:

    Well the winter weather predictions for the United States AND Europe is for the COLDEST winter in 25 to 100 years! Uhhhh global warming…right

    [JR: Uhh, that isn't the prediction and weather predictions hardly invalidate the unequivocal evidence of warming and climate change.]

  35. Dan says:

    Hasn’t reached above 20 degrees in 2 weeks…first time in years i can remember with 2ft of snow before X-Mas….”Global Warming” LOL oh yea….im gettin out the beach chairs today,,,,i wonder how many stock options all the politicians and media mogoules have in all these alternate power companies…keep fooling the public in believing that they’re killing the planet while they take their families out for a weekend drive in the country.

    P.S. I love driving my Dodge truck that gets 8MPG its sooo fast an powerful :-)

  36. Billy Bob says:

    Ummm, anybody rethunking some of this ‘global warming’ stuff?

    I’m no scientist guy, but with it snowing in West Australia and record cold across the northern half of the planet, call me just impuslive if you want, but it aint looking to be getting any warmer. And la Nina aint around to ‘splain it all.

    Just an observation.

  37. WTFGuy says:

    [snip] first off Weather is NOT Climate. I know it is hard for you to comprehend but your not dissproving anything with your comments. I have an observation for you I live in the northern plains the Fall/Winter has gone like this so far… Sept-Really Warm/Very Dry, October-One of the coldest months on record/the wettest on record for my area, November/Much warmer than average/really Dry, December-Starts of Warm but ends with a very cold week/Record Snowfall for my area. and now Jan. Starts of Cold but by the weekend the temp is moderating. Now these are examples of weather but if I were to average them out over the year that could more accurately be called climate. What you see on a Day/Week/Month are only data points for a climate model.

  38. TanGeng says:

    The El Nino that was touted by the prediction DID NOT materialize. Now the question is what was the basis for the prediction and how was it falsified??

    If nothing was falsified by this errant prediction, that begs the further question why should we trust the predictions ever again. Let’s get some scientific rigour here instead of insisting that “weather isn’t climate.”

  39. Leif says:

    TanGen; I do not know where you get your information but it does not jibe with my sources. Please supply links for assertions that are controversial to mainstream science so a proper evaluation can be made. Oh, by the by, “Weather” is NOT “Climate.” Try a dictionary for starters.

  40. Leif says:

    TanGen: I supply you with a NOAA report for your perusal but evidence speaks from your posting that it is for naught.

  41. Fred says:

    Hmm, must not have liked the different view that I posted the other day. that is how you folks who tout Global Warming like to debate, delete those who have a different view and ignore all data that doesn’t support your fixed and flagrantly flawed data. Now we are about to enter a 30 year cooling period before we get back to the real global warming….trends from the past 10 million years be damned!


    [JR: Uhh, no, you just keep trying to post long-debunked crap, like this fox news piece I just debunked.]

  42. Matt says:

    Does anybody know of an effort to do a climate model back-fit? I am looking for an explanation for the surface temperatures from about 1999 to 2009 that have some fluctuation and this cooling trend that so many people are focused on. Maybe it is La Nina as this article mentions, or solar irradiance, or volcanic activity, etc. I think this is an important exercise to add credibility to the newest climate models.

    The deniers see a departure in the measurements and the predictions over the past 10+ years and use this to cast doubt about AGW. If we know the reasons for a temperature shift each year, it makes the future projections more convincing.

  43. WTFGuy says:

    Fred – Unless you can show us that paper publised in a peer Revewed Scientific journal then it is not credible science. There is a reason that we have that process so that lay people and don’t try to publish whatever garbage they want. Here’s a question… can you see any way that you would beleive that humans are causing GW? If you answer is “no” then we have nothing more to talk about because the best Scinetific Jounals in the world agree that we are the cause. Also if you get info from A news source and don’t research it yourself that’s just silly.

    Matt – It doesn’t matter if you can prove what is causing the changes the last two years have been colder than the previous years but put that into context colder than the warmest year on record. The Climate models show variabilty even as is gets warmer because of various factors. Plus even though its been cooler they still rank like 5th and 9th warmest years on record, and the ten warmest years on record have been in the last 12 years. This is a great video that talks about the temps in the models.