El Nino: Warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific

NOAA has been tracking a developing El Nino in the Pacific Ocean all year. An alert for its development was issued in March, and now it appears to be on par with the super El Nino of 1997. Perhaps even stronger. The outlook statement from The Climate Prediction Center:

There is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere fall 2015, and around an 85% chance it will last through the 2015-16 winter.

But what is it? A pattern of warm water the develops every three to seven years in the tropical Pacific along the equator. See more images in the slide show (below the video). The net expected global result:

  • Shift of storm development away from Asia towards the central Pacific.
  • Shifts the winds from normal light easterlies to westerlies at the surface.
  • That adjusts the water currents and weather patterns across the entire Pacific.
  • More active tropical season and stronger storms (as already seen in Asia).
  • More storms, especially in winter reached the west coast of the US. This can bring drought busting rain to California, but also flooding and mudslides.
  • It also increases the westerly winds aloft in the tropical Atlantic. That is opposite the normal flow and cuts the top off of developing systems. This limits the number of tropical storms and hurricanes. However, 1992 was an El Nino year that also brought Hurricane Andrew to south Florida. Once can overcome the pattern and take on a life of its own.

There are other results in South America, but I wanted to stay focused.

It is important to note that El Nino region is nearly half a world away from us. So the eventually impact on the eastern US depends on other patterns as well.

Sea Surface Temperatures

The diminished tropical action was expected and built into seasonal forecast. Will this mean more snow in the winter?  That is more likely but not a guarantee. However, it should be noted that the recent locked pattern of flooding rain can be attributed in part to El Nino, and has been linked to similar patterns in recent decades. But remember that pattern hit Texas and the Mid West hard in May while we were rather dry. That abruptly changed in June, and continues now in July.  So as we get closer to fall, the impact of other patterns in the Atlantic will shed light on where the storm track will likely play out. Faith-in-the-Flakes, right?

Related Posts

Expect Media Overload

Back in the 1990s, a media frenzy erupted, blaming everything on the event. I remember one report of a person in California listed as L. Nino in the phonebook receiving death threats. It was comical, and it would be wrong to skip the best El Nino video of all… Chris Farley:


El Nino Charts And Maps

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