Monster El Niño 2015/2016

Warmer waters in eastern Pacific Ocean

Every 3-7 years variations in tropical winds and pressure shift warm ocean water east to the South American coast, causing an El Niño event. Last time we experienced a really strong El Niño was in 1997/1998 but this years event have the potential to top that record, according to many scientists. There is a 90% chance that El Niño will continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16 (NOAA, 2015).

The map shows sea surface temperature anomalies in June 2015. We can see that there is a long patch of warmer waters off South Americas west coast stretching all the way to Indonesia. This is a typical characteristic of an El Niño event. We can also see the "blob", persistent warm patch, off North Americas west coast that has impacted California's drought condition.
This week average temperatures jumped to above 1.9C which is much sooner than most models predicted, that indicated it would occur by October/November. We could reach ocean warming of 2.2 or even 3C above average by the end of the year. Such temperature anomalies would exceed the maximum values seen during the record 1997/98 event.

Worse weather under current climate change?

Combining our current climate forcing with such a powerful El Niño could mean that global average atmospheric temperatures will continue to hit record highs. The heat coming from the Pacific Ocean is massive and will probably reinforce the the "hot blob" in the Northern Pacific as well as transport warmer waters into the Arctic, through the Bering Strait. This could increase the melting of Arctic sea ice with a reinforcing feedback of further warming in the region. A powerful El Niño could also increase storminess along the south and eastern US and across the North Atlantic where a cold pool south of Greenland (associated with a weakening North Atlantic current) is already intensifying storms.


Out of the ashes into the fire

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