Dangerous Progress Toward Strong El Nino Continues as Extreme Kelvin Wave Rises in Eastern Pacific

It’s happening. The most powerful sub surface warming of the Pacific Ocean on record is continuing to progress into the Eastern Pacific even as it rises toward the surface. As a result, risks for the emergence of El Nino during 2014 are spiking together with the potential for a host of global weather extremes.

Over the past month, trade winds remained weak even as west wind back bursts continued to push against the trades along the Equatorial Pacific. Moderate west winds emerged during mid-to-late April northeast of the Solomon Islands while cyclonic lows produced sporadic west winds in the Central Pacific. By May, consistent west winds were blowing over a large section of the Eastern Pacific.

Upper level easterlies had also emerged reinforcing a general pattern toward El Nino development.

The strong Kelvin wave that, in March, featured the highest sub-surface temperature anomalies on record entered its upwelling phase and began to push more and more of its heat potential toward the surface in the Eastern Pacific. This propagation is clearly visible in the sequence below:

Kelvin Wave Early May

(Kelvin Wave monitoring by NOAA. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

As of May 3, 2-3 C above average water temperatures had hit the surface of the Eastern Pacific and 3-6+ C above average temperatures lurked not far below.

The result of this rising warm water pulse was above average sea surface temperatures across the entire Equatorial Pacific with anomalies for the broader region hitting +.62 C on May 8th, 2014. It is worth noting that for El Nino to be declared, Equatorial Pacific water temperatures in the mid to eastern Pacific must remain above +.5 C for two months running. And, at this point, conditions appear primed for just such an event.

May 7 SST anomaly

(May 7, 2014 Sea Surface Temperature anomaly map shows Pacific Ocean looking more and more like an El Nino. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

These clear ongoing trends have resulted in yet one more upgrade of El Nino potentials by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) this week. Chances for El Nino in the current three month period of May, June and July have now been adjusted to about 55% with probabilities continuing to rise throughout the summer and fall. Peak chances for El Nino, according to CPC, are now just shy of 80% by October, November and December of 2014.

All values now show a very high degree of certainty that El Nino will emerge exceeding even the high confidence predictions provided last month by both NOAA and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).


El Nino Prediction Chart CPC May 8

(El Nino Prediction Chart as of May 8, 2014. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

CPC notes:

The model predictions of ENSO for this summer and beyond are indicating an increased likelihood of El Niño compared with those from last month. Most of the models indicate that ENSO-neutral (Niño-3.4 index between -0.5°C and 0.5°C) will persist through part of the remainder of the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014, most likely transitioning to El Niño during the summer. While ENSO-neutral is favored for Northern Hemisphere spring, the chance of El Niño increases during the remainder of the year, exceeding 65% during the summer.

When El Nino Comes Early, Risks of a Strong Event Increase

It usually takes until Fall or even Winter for a typical El Nino event to emerge. When El Nino comes early — by late spring or summer — risks increase that the event will be far stronger than normal. In general, such events are thought to be preceded by very strong Kelvin waves like the one we’ve witnessed since January.

Many Ocean researchers such as Dr Wenju Cai, a climate expert at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, now consider the ocean to be primed for such a strong El Nino event.

Dr. Cai explains:

“I think this event has lots of characteristics with a strong El Nino. A strong El Nino appears early and we have seen this event over the last couple of months, which is unusual; the wind that has caused the warming is quite large and there is what we call the pre-conditioned effects, where you must have a lot of heat already in the system to have a big El Nino event.”

Rising Potential for Very Bad Weather

With the world’s weather already pushed to extreme states by human warming, the emergence of a strong El Nino would likely have increasingly severe consequences. Weather events at both the flood and drought extreme would be further amplified as a portion of hottest ever Pacific Ocean heat content transferred back to the atmosphere. This transfer would push a hydrological cycle already amped by more than 6% due to human-caused warming to a greater extreme. It would also likely result in new global high temperature records worldwide as a Pacific Ocean that had sucked up so much of excess human warming during the past decade and a half again becomes a major heat source.


NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center



Ocean Data Points to Strong El Nino

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Leave a comment


  1. uknowispeaksense

     /  May 8, 2014

    Reblogged this on uknowispeaksense.

  2. rayduray

     /  May 9, 2014

    Hi Robert,

    I’ve been keeping a close eye on the U.S. Southwest drought. And I’ve been thinking about the last two super El Nino events of 1982-3 and 1997-8. And I’ve found reason to be hopeful that the coming El Nino might just be the ticket to provide some water relief to the parched Southwest. See chart here:

    Of course, as jfleck points out, there’s little correlation between El Nino’s and upper Colorado River snowpack, but when everything aligns just so, we can get some big water years.

    Recently a friend recommend “The Emerald Mile” by Kevin Fedarko to me. While the main topic of the book is an epic run down the Grand Canyon in full flood, the flood itself was the result of the 1983 El Nino’s impact on the Glen Canyon Dam. Which some say almost shook itself apart at one point. Anyone with a taste for armchair adventure and mega-plumbing is gonna love this one.

    • Am concerned about very heavy rain potential for the west this winter. They have to get through a dry summer first, though.

  3. forward2eden

     /  May 9, 2014

    How might a 2014/15 El Nino be affected by the high amplitude jet stream we saw in 2013/14? Could this El Nino exhibit different patterns due to a jet stream altered by arctic melting?

    • El Niño tends to generate certain Jet Stream patterns. For example, the Pacific Jet tends to split with one high amplitude flow pushing north toward Alaska and a second, moisture heavy, flow running straight toward the west coast. Sea ice erosion would have a few effects.

      First, the northern split would tend to run further north with greater invasions of Alaska and even the Arctic Ocean. This puts this region under threat for much warmer than normal conditions. Second, the moisture heavy split would tend to shift a bit further north and, potentially, carry a heavy moisture burden.

      There are other changes worldwide such as the potential for development of extreme summer heat/drought in western Russia and Eastern Europe.

      This is a good question and one I should devote a separate article to.

  4. How might this affect the arctic ice melt?

    • This year, not too much unless this starts very early (june-july), next spring-early summer (2015), definitely yes, speeding up a lot (in my opinion). .

    • High potential for more rapid melt north of Alaska and into the Chukchi, Beaufort, and East Siberia seas should El Niño fully develop by this summer. It’s worth noting that the general pattern of heat flow into this area is already established.

      A second risk zone emerges for rapid melt in the Kara region due to the tendency for high amplitude ringing over Eastern Europe/Western Russia.

  5. Phil

     /  May 9, 2014

    I have seen a fes blogs now mentioning the possible formation of a second Kelvin Wave that might reinforce the current one in a month or two. Robert, have you seen any evidence pointing to this possibility?

    • The Kelvin Wave is currently in its cooler, upwelling phase. In another couple of months it will shift back to down welling, heat accumulation. That second wave could well reinforce an already powerful El Niño trend.

  6. Colorado Bob

     /  May 9, 2014

    Cloud watching, that most ancient pastime, enters the modern age, thanks to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

    Ever wish you could just sit back in space and gaze as the Earth lazily rolled by beneath you, just like the astronauts? Well, NASA is offering the next best thing to being there in person, courtesy of a suite of high-definition video cameras installed on the exterior of the International Space Station last month.

    Now we can all enjoy the mesmerizing online footage of clouds, oceans, and continents floating by on our screens anytime.

    The four always-on HD cameras, housed in temperature-controlled and pressurized housings, were turned on April 30. They are part of an experiment to determine whether current camera technology can survive long-term exposure to the extreme radiation of space. Best of all, you can see the results:

  7. Colorado Bob

     /  May 9, 2014

    Sentinel satellite spies ice cap speed-up

    Melting at one of the largest ice caps on Earth has produced a big jump in its flow speed, satellite imagery suggests.

    Austfonna on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago covers just over 8,000 sq km and had been relatively stable for many years.

    But the latest space data reveals a marked acceleration of the ice in its main outlet glacier to the Barents Sea.

    The research was presented in Brussels on Thursday to mark the launch of the EU’s new Sentinel-1a radar spacecraft.

    • Colorado Bob

       /  May 9, 2014

      “We’ve observed Austfonna with various satellite radar datasets over the past 20 years, and it hasn’t done very much,” explained Prof Andy Shepherd from Leeds University, UK.
      “But we’ve now looked at it again with the new Sentienl-1a spacecraft, and it’s clear it has speeded up quite considerably in the last two or three years. It is now flowing at least 10 times faster than previously measured.”

    • Svalbard has been hit very hard by polar amplification in recent years. That said, it’s a bit disconcerting to see such rapid ice sheet response.

      • Colorado Bob

         /  May 9, 2014

        Those 3 small images at right are like watching faucet being turned on.

  8. Colorado Bob

     /  May 9, 2014

    Israel swept by rainiest May day on recordFlash floods from Eilat to Dead Sea; hundreds stranded or evacuated; Sea of Galilee rises an inchLink

  9. Colorado Bob

     /  May 9, 2014

    “Weeds are going to be winners under any climate change scenario that we anticipate,” said Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop systems and global change program, and co-author of the National Climate Assessment released Tuesday.

    Crop-devouring insects, too, are predicted to win. Ultimately, the biggest losers may be us.

    April was the first month in human history when carbon dioxide levels averaged greater than 400 parts per million in the atmosphere. It’s an arbitrary but ominous milestone, according to experts, who forecast concentrations of the greenhouse gas will surpass 550 parts per million within the next 40 years.

    Both food crops and their weedy nemeses thrive on carbon dioxide. It’s the core ingredient of photosynthesis, the process by which a plant coverts energy from the sun into sugar to grow. Yet some plants turn the gas into a competitive edge more efficiently than others.

    “A lot of our worst weeds benefit the most from high carbon dioxide,” said David Wolfe, an expert in climate change and plant physiology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

  10. That hot Med is certainly pumping out a lot of moisture…

  1. California Experiencing Driest Year on Record, Epic Drought to Persist or Intensify Through Summer, Godzilla El Nino Waits in the Wings | robertscribbler
  2. Another Week of Climate Disruption News – May 11, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette
  3. Deep Ocean Warming is Coming Back to Haunt Us: Record Warmth for 2014 Likely As Equatorial Heat Rises | robertscribbler

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