Let’s check in on the upcoming El Niño

Here’s the ENTIRE message I got  just last night from an El Niño expert:

“For your entertainment, see below… and in other news, looks to me like an El Niño is coming on fast – maybe you and I will get plenty of rain in winter 2014.”

My friend, with insider El Niño “trading” info,  lives in Monterrey, California, and is referring to the 2014-15 winter as a whole.  Pretty exciting I thought since we can put the current winter pretty much in the trash can and move on…

BTW, the first part of his message referred to a sci lecture at the U of AZ on Monday about global warming impacts (now repackaged as “climate change”, since its not really been warming anymore  for some time, well, since your teenaged son was born, for some reason).  I think you should go there and hear it.

But, in the meantime, let us look at the ocean temperature anomalies (way below) and see what this expert is talkin’ about when it comes to an upcoming El Nino.

Some Niño background

First of all, let us remember there are two kinds of El Ninos, “Classic El Niño” (aka, “Classic Niño”) and “The New El Niño” (aka, “The New Niño”).  Below, we’ll use the short versions.

“Classic Niño” is the one we talked about for hundreds of years, well, maybe not you and me, but the one Peruvian  fisherfolk got real worked up over when, suddenly, the ocean water along the extreme northern coast of Chile and all of Peru warmed up and changed what fish were out there it got so warm.

Not only that, it began to rain like HELL in areas that were total deserts because the warm water brought tropical air with huge Cumulonimbus clouds that rained like HELL, to repeat and emphasize a point, and also to add some colorful language to what might otherwise be a dull discourse.

And that rain and warm water extended westward all the way to the Galapagos Islands where the people who lived there, if any, also got worked up over sudden. gushing rains.  Well, who knows if anyone lived there, but certainly the totals (haha, I thought I was typing, “turtles” and it came out “totals”–how funny izzat?) got worked up; whole bio communities could get almost wiped out by those sudden, punishing rains.

Before the big Cu moved in, all they had in the Galapagos was Stratocumulus and small Cumulus (boring!)   Sometimes those kinds of clouds could drizzle a little, or produce light rainshowers, and that’s about it.  Those shallow clouds were topped by a temperature reversal with increasing height, so they could never grow up to be Cbs.  The relatively cool waters normally along the Equator in the eastern Pacific were responsible.

When Niños occur, they extended even farther westward than just the Galapagos along the Equator,  as the unusually warm water propagated into the mid-Pacific Ocean.  Other islands out there,  like the Galapagos, and normally very, very dry, would be ambushed by heavy rains from huge clouds they hadn’t seen in years when normally,  they only saw “cup cake” Cumulus” with passing occasional very light showers, like Johnston Island way out there somewhere south of Hawaii.

But, the “Classic Niño”, wasn’t really good enough for scientists.   So they made up a new formulation of Nino and introduced “The New Niño”, sometime in the 1990s or, as they called it, to be more technical with greater obfuscation for scientific purposes,  “Region 3.4”which is really a patch of the equatorial waters WAY offshore  along the Equator from where “Classic Niño” occurs (120 to 170 degrees W longitude).  You can read about it, get more details, here.

Why did scientists do this?

Because “The New Niño”, or “Region 3.4”, to return to jargon) did a better job with something we call “teleconnections.”  “Teleconnections” is not a new service by Verizon, but rather how weather in one locale is related to the weather in another region, usually thousands of miles away.  It was something that was noticed in the middle of the last century, how, say,  stormy weather in one area was associated with stormy weather in another.  Often, severe winters in the eastern US are associated with severe winters in Europe, as an example, though it did not happen this winter.

In the the case of El Niños overall, research in the area of teleconnections fournd that  “New Niño” was better associated with GLOBAL telenconnections than was the “Classic Niño.”  So, most of us have moved on and scrutinize “Region 3.4” water temperature anomalies.  To explain, in what has become a lecture (is anyone left? Elvis certainly would have “left the building” by now) I use arrows in the sea surface temperatures below to point out where Classic Niño occurs and where the “The New Niño” one does.  They usually, though not every time, occur at the same time.

El Niños, as you likely know, are associated with greater chances of rain in the whole Southwest, along the southern Gulf Coast, and even folks in Saudi Arabia have some evidence that more rain even falls there in the winter when a Niño occurs!  However, its best, for these teleconnections to work out, to have a big Niño, like the ones in 1982-832, or 1997-98.

Map of the latest sea surface temperature departures from normal, this from just yesterday!
Map of the latest sea surface temperature departures from normal, this from just yesterday!

I don’t see much going on as yet, but my friend has access to stuff I don’t, like water temperatures lurking just below the surface that are about to rise to the top if the winds along the Equator all the way to Australia and beyond cooperate.  Note its cold as HELL in the “Classic Niño” area right now, but has warmed up some over the winter in the “New Niño” patch which is a good sign.

Been derelict in cloud photos lately, got relatives visiting.  But as weak troughs move toward us, they will keep the supply of Cirrus, Cirrostratus, and maybe some Altocumulus streaming by overhead for the occasional spectacular sunrises and sunsets for the next several days.

The End.


1You wonder if the “New Coke” would have done better if it had been called, “Coke 3.4”?  Sounds more like an solid advance in coke formulations, something I might want to drink, with numbers attached like that.

2Had about 30 inches of rain here in Catalina during the 1982-83 water year!  Dream about that one if you weren’t here to see all the water flowing in just about every wash imaginable in those days.   However, there have been some Niño duds here, too, like 2004-05, or 1976-77, ones that were associated with below normal totals here during the water year.