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The weak El Ni±o appears to be strengthening, as expected, so record temperatures will continue.

By Joe Romm  

"The weak El Ni±o appears to be strengthening, as expected, so record temperatures will continue."

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Two weeks ago I blogged that NASA reports hottest June to September on record; NOAA says “weak” El Ni±o “expected to strengthen and last through” winter.

NOAA’s National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center (and most other models) have been predicting for a couple of months that the weak El Ni±o would strengthen, but it hasn’t.  Until now, that is.

This sea surface temperature (SST) data is from the NOAA’s October 26 weekly update on the El Ni±o/Southern oscillation, “ENSO Cycle: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions“:

SST 10-09

It is the warming in the Nino 3.4 region of the Pacific that is typically used to define an El Ni±o.  The region can be seen in this figure:

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/mlb/enso/images/nino-regions.gif

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:

ENSO 10-27

As the planet warms decade by decade thanks to human emissions of greenhouse gases, making this the hottest decade in recorded history by far, 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.

Most models are not predicting an uber-El Ni±o as we saw in 1998, but NOAA’s own CFS (Climate Forecast System) issued last week projects a moderate El Ni±o lasting through next summer:

CFS 10-27

What would that mean?

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.

The recent outstanding AP story, “Statisticians reject global cooling,” ends:

Oceans, which take longer to heat up and longer to cool, greatly influence short-term weather, causing temperatures to rise and fall temporarily on top of the overall steady warming trend, scientists say. The biggest example of that is El Nino.

El Nino, a temporary warming of part of the Pacific Ocean, usually spikes global temperatures, scientists say. The two recent warm years, both 1998 and 2005, were El Nino years. The flip side of El Nino is La Nina, which lowers temperatures. A La Nina bloomed last year and temperatures slipped a bit, but 2008 was still the ninth hottest in 130 years of NOAA records.

Of the 10 hottest years recorded by NOAA, eight have occurred since 2000, and after this year it will be nine because this year is on track to be the sixth-warmest on record.

The current El Nino is forecast to get stronger, probably pushing global temperatures even higher next year, scientists say. NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt predicts 2010 may break a record, so a cooling trend “will be never talked about again.”

UPDATE:  Gavin emailed me that “I actually meant that a cooling trend from 1998 wouldn’t be talked about again. Obviously, if 2010 is a record year then the talk will turn to a cooling trend from 2010 as early as summer 2011. These people, unlike the climate on a year to year basis, are extremely predictable.”

Yes, if the ensemble mean CFS prediction above comes true, then 2010 will probably break the temperature record and 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.

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14 Responses to The weak El Ni±o appears to be strengthening, as expected, so record temperatures will continue.

  1. BBHY says:

    The deniers will take this in stride. For them, any warm year is a temporary anomaly, while any relatively cool year indicates that global warming isn’t happening, never happened, it was all a great hoax.

    I sure hope we can push through some real legislation that will make a real difference. I don’t care how much the deniers wail and howl, I want to see strong action!

  2. Lamont says:

    Solar cycle 24 is also starting to heat up with record solar flux for this cycle (highest since March 2008 back in cycle 23), and sunspot 1029 has thrown off a couple of C-class flares.

    The El Nino will also probably heat up the north pole, so that 2010 or 2011 stands a good chance of setting a new low in summer ice.

    Sometime in the next couple of years at least we should bust the 1998 temperature record in every dataset (NOAA, NASA, UAH, RSS), set a new low in summer ice in the arctic and the ocean heat content should set a new record as well. If we are truly cooling (particularly since 1998), then those records should never be broken again…

    [JR: Yeah, the solar cycle is no doubt final kicking in, to the great disappointment of the deniers. I think it has too long of a lag to affect 2010 temps, though.]

  3. Lamont says:

    Good graphic to show the progression into SC24 out of the solar minimum:

    http://www.leif.org/research/TSI-SORCE-2008-now.png

    (TSI updates seem to lag the other datasets)

  4. MarkB says:

    I disagree with Gavin. 2005 was a record in both datasets (NCDC, GISS) that include Arctic temperatures, but that doesn’t stop deniers from “cooling since 1998″ claims. In addition to cherry-picking an extreme ENSO event as a starting point, an approach obviously rejected by statisticians, deniers have to also ignore inconvenient data to get the “no warming since 1998″ claim. In Hadley’s data, which inherently assumes the Arctic is warming at the same pace as the rest of the world, the record is still 1998, as in the satellite records of the lower troposphere, which are more sensitive to extreme ENSO events.

    If a mild to moderate el Nino persists into 2010 (certainly indicated by the CFS ensemble mean, which correctly predicted the late-2008 brief transition to la Nina conditions to start the year), it seems 2010 will be a likely record in the surface data, but 1998 was such a huge off-the-charts unrepresentative anomaly in the satellite record that it might take a stronger el Nino to break that record. So expect deniers to continue their political attack on the temperature records they don’t like and continue to harp on 1998. Perhaps they will find some cold weather somewhere or some glacier growing in some part of the world to support their denial.

  5. dhogaza says:

    Yeah, the solar cycle is no doubt final kicking in, to the great disappointment of the deniers

    Actually they’ll embrace it with enthusiasm, claiming that any record set in 2010 will be due to the combination of ENSO and “it’s the sun, stupid”.

    I’d expect you to be more cynical, Joe :)

    [JR: Well, we're at a century low of solar activity and they've been praying for a Maunder minimum.]

  6. paulm says:

    hey joe, they stole your phrase…

    The Time to Act is Now
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/coastal-homes-in-australia-at-risk-from-rising-sea-levels-1810518.html

    Government report shocks country where 80 per cent of population lives on coast

    The report… sent a shiver through a country where 80 per cent of the population lives on the coast. With more than 700,000 homes within two miles of the ocean and less than 20ft above sea level, rising seas – together with more frequent storm surges and higher tides – are a serious threat.

    A parliamentary committee spent 18 months investigating the state of Australia’s coastline, and MPs were shocked by what they found. Mal Washer, deputy chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Climate Change, said yesterday: “There’s little in reality left of our coast. It’s all breakwaters or sandbags… It’s a disaster.”

    Mr Washer said that popular beaches
    , such as those lining the Queensland Gold Coast, a popular tourist destination, would not exist if sand was not pumped on to them artificially.

  7. Giove says:

    did anyone notice today’s artic ice cover from NSIDC, and the worrying trend? 2009 seems to be going worse than 2007!

    http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/images/daily_images/N_timeseries.png

  8. dhogaza says:

    did anyone notice today’s artic ice cover from NSIDC, and the worrying trend? 2009 seems to be going worse than 2007!

    Yes, the refreeze is happening at a relatively slow pace. Remember, though, that the arctic seas are largely landlocked at a high enough latitude that it will fill with ice regardless (that’s why the downwards trend in maximum winter extent is not as extreme as the downwards trend of minimum summer extent).

    However, later freezing presumably means thinner and weaker than usual first-year ice at the start of the melt season. On the other hand, the amount of second and third year ice will be greater than in 2008 or 2009 (since summer minimum was greater than the minimum in those two years).

    And don’t forget El Niño.

    All this adds up (IMO) to … it’s going to be an interesting winter refreeze and summer melt season, once again!

  9. Saltator says:

    Well the Australian BOM has this to say:

    “Although recent forecasts from computer models have reduced the peak warming expected in the Pacific Ocean, five of the seven international models surveyed by the Bureau of Meteorology predict that the Pacific SSTs will persist at El Niño levels into 2010. Most models are predicting that Pacific Ocean SSTs will start to cool by March next year, which is the typical timing for the decay of El Niño events. Recent forecasts from the POAMA model, run daily at the Bureau of Meteorology, show a steady warming with SST remaining above El Niño thresholds into early 2010, peaking over the summer months”

    That would be southern hemisphere summer people.
    No mention of the event reaching into the northern hemisphere summer. In fact it is predicted to start cooling around March. I think that would be spring in the NH wouldn’t it?

    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/

  10. Saltator says:

    In fact NOAAs own ENSO diagnostic discussion dated 8th October 2009 makes no mention of the El-Nino extending into the NH summer. In fact it’s synopsis states:

    “Synopsis: El Niño is expected to strengthen and last through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2009-2010.”

    So where the justification for stating that it will last into the NH summer?

  11. MarkB says:

    Saltator,

    “So where the justification for stating that it will last into the NH summer?”

    I believe this is based on the CFS ensemble mean noted in this post.

  12. Lamont says:

    ENSO predictions 6+ months out are just about largely meaningless. And jst about 3-4 months ago, CFS was predicting a 3C monster El Nino to rival 1998.

    If you look at the historical record and count the number of times we’ve had back-to-back El Ninos and count the number of times that we’ve had single-year El Ninos and then pick an appropriately weighted random number you will probably do better than any of the ENSO models.

    They do better in the ~2 week timeframe — which is pretty easy — given that there was a new downwelling phase of a kelvin wave starting in the pacific and the wind patterns were changing I expected to see a bunch of warming 2 weeks ago too.

    I also expected this year to be an El Nino long before the models were predicting an El Nino just because the last two seasons were La Ninas and it was safe to assume that the oscillator had recharged itself and we were going to see an El Nino — and it was safe to assume it was going to be a moderate one because that’s the most common El Nino.

    Once the El Nino this year formed, I also expected this El Nino to stretch in NH winter 2010 because that’s also what El Nino’s usually do. Some of the deniers were claiming the El Nino would fizzle based on some kind of “Permanent La Nina because the Sun went away” theory, and I didn’t need the CFS ensemble mean to suggest to me that was going to be b.s. and it would persist through winter.

    I would venture to guess a 25% chance of weak El Nino conditions next summer/fall/winter, 50% chance of ENSO-neutral conditions, and 25% of weak-to-moderate La Nina conditions. I’ll bet that is a better prediction that whatever the models are spitting out…

  13. David Miller says:

    Regarding the denier arguments posited in #1:

    I’ve already had that conversation, and was told in no uncertain terms that “if one year of cooling doesn’t count for the AGW crowd that one year of warming doesn’t prove anything either.”

    My response was that you get to count each year of “cooling” as evidence of a trend when you get 30 of them in a row with the moving average heading down. Until that trend is established cooler years are just inter-annual variation. OTOH, when each new record high is reached within the 30 year trend each year is indeed a piece of corroborating evidence.

    I think I finally convinced him that AGW was real. He accepted that CO2 did trap some outgoing IR, so the key phrase for him was “what part of radiative imbalance confuses you?”. Asked a sufficient number of times it sunk in.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Best estimate of temperature lag due to the solar cycle seems to be 7–12 months.

    However, the effect is quite small; probably best to just ignore it until another 50 years or so of data is collected.