As already predicted in Unknown Country’s Climate Watch, it appears that westerly winds sweeping across the Pacific ocean could produce the first El Niño weather system since 2009-2010. Forecasters warn that it could be one of the most dramatic on record.
The predicted El Niño is attracting attention from experts around the globe, who are monitoring its progress with increasing interest:
“Basically it is primed for a strong El Niño, but it needs the final push,” commented Axel Timmermann, Professor of Oceanography at the International Pacific Research Centre, University of Hawaii. “This is perhaps the most-watched El Niño of all time.”
May 2014 was the third warmest May in the 35-year satellite-measured global temperature record, and the warmest May that wasn’t during an El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. The global average temperature for May was 33 C (about 59 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than seasonal norms for the month. The warmest May was in 1998, during the “El Niño of the century.” Temperatures in May 1998 were 56 C (about 1.0 degrees F) warmer than normal. May 2010 — also an El Niño month — was second warmest at 45 C (81 degrees F).
While May 2014 was not officially an El Niño month, indications are that an El Niño is forming in the eastern central Pacific off the equatorial coast of South America. Even if that El Niño is nothing spectacular, it might become a record setter simply because it is getting a warmer start:
“The long-term baseline temperature is about three tens of a degree (C) warmer than it was when the big El Niño of 1997-1998 began, and that event set the one-month record with an average global temperature that was 0.66 C (almost 1.2 degrees F) warmer than normal in April 1998,” explained Christy.
January through August of 1998 are all in the 14 warmest months in the satellite record, and that El Niño started when global temperatures were somewhat chilled; the global average temperature in May 1997 was 0.14 C (about 0.25 degrees F) cooler than the long-term seasonal norm for May.
“With the baseline so much warmer, this upcoming El Niño won’t have very far to go to break that 0.66 C record,” Christy said. “That isn’t to say it will, but even an average-sized warming event will have a chance to get close to that level.”
Compared to seasonal norms, the coldest place in Earth’s atmosphere in May was over the northern Pacific Ocean, where temperatures were as much as 2.08 C (about 3.74 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than seasonal norms. Compared to seasonal norms, the warmest departure from average in May was along the western border of Kazakhstan. Temperatures there were as much as 4.18 C (about 7.52 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than seasonal norms.
Archived color maps of local temperature anomalies are available on-line at:
As part of an ongoing joint project between UAH, NOAA and NASA, Christy and Dr. Roy Spencer, an ESSC principal scientist, use data gathered by advanced microwave sounding units on NOAA and NASA satellites to get accurate temperature readings for almost all regions of the Earth. This includes remote desert, ocean and rain forest areas where reliable climate data are not otherwise available.
Neither Christy nor Spencer receives any research support or funding from oil, coal or industrial companies or organizations, or from any private or special interest groups. All of their climate research funding comes from federal and state grants or contracts.
Their satellite-based instruments measure the temperature of the atmosphere from the surface up to an altitude of about eight kilometers above sea level. Once the monthly temperature data is collected and processed, it is placed in a "public" computer file for immediate access by atmospheric scientists in the U.S. and abroad.
How could this super-El Niño affect our worldwide weather?
El Niños occur when waters in the eastern Pacific ocean become warmer than those in the west, halting or even reversing easterly trade winds and affecting the jet stream flow that propels weather systems across the planet. Therefore this pattern is a major driving force affecting the global climate, and has been a significant factor in the production of drought conditions across Australia and eastern Asia, and heavy rainfall along the east Pacific coast.
Australia has already experienced record-breaking summer temperatures during the past twelve months, but the incoming El Niño could exacerbate this trend even further, creating widespread droughts and associated bushfires.These type of conditions are more prone to occur if an El Niño combines with a positive Indian Ocean Dipole or Indian Niño, an Indian ocean version of El Niño which results in less moisture being drawn across the continent from the north-west. Fortunately, the latest El Niño updates suggest that this scenario is becoming less likely.
In the U.S., the incoming El Niño is forecast to bring increased precipitation to Texas and a higher incidence of storms across the southern part of the United States, but the good news is that hurricanes are less likely in the Atlantic ocean. This is because of El Niño’s effect on the Jet stream which propels storms across the south and Eastern Seaboard, causing them to make landfall much sooner; storms that linger out at sea gather intensity and there is a higher potential for them to develop into hurricanes.
Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at Reading University warned that although fewer hurricanes would form in the Atlantic, it could be a different story in the Pacific:
“We might expect more hurricanes in the Pacific but less hurricanes in the Atlantic. We might expect rainfall changes over Africa and South America in particular," he said.
The previous mega El Niño of 1997-8 had a devastating impact all across the world, particularly in developing countries; agriculture was badly affected, and extreme weather events caused around US$ 35-45 billion in damage and caused around 23,000 deaths worldwide.
Some experts are predicting that the lethal combination of a very strong El Niño in conjunction with the already extreme effects of climate change could result in the hottest year on record:
“The prediction that 2014 will be the hottest year on record is a rough estimate but based on sound physics and the latest predictions for the growing El Niño during the remainder of the year,” warned Piers Forster, a professor of climate change at Leeds University in the United Kingdom.
Unknown Country will be joining the world’s meteorologists in keeping a close eye on this forthcoming weather phenomenon, and watching how it unfolds in an already volatile climactic arena.