For nearly two years now, we’ve had every indication that Dr. Kevin Trenberth was right. A human-forced warming of the deep and middle ocean was indeed coming back to haunt us. Back during early 2014, signs were that a Monster El Nino was building in the Equatorial Pacific. This slow bleed of added heat to the Earth’s mid-section, in turn, forced global temperatures higher, leading to a record hot year during 2014, what will surely be a record hot year during 2015, and what may well also become a record hot year during 2016.
A primary driver of this record global surface heat was a period of extreme warming throughout the Pacific Ocean. A warming that increasingly centered upon the Equatorial Pacific as a Monster El Nino emerged and grew ever stronger.
The Strongest El Nino on Record
By mid summer, we had early indications that the 2015 event was likely to come in as the 1rst to 3rst strongest on record. Since that time, temperatures within the key NINO 3.4 region gradually built up.
(Sea surface temperature anomalies in the benchmark NINO 3.4 zone hit an extreme high temperature departure of 3.0 degrees Celsius above average in the NOAA monitor this Monday. These temperatures are the hottest ever recorded for this region of the Pacific. An indication that the 2015 El Nino is shaping up to beat out even the 1997-1998 El Nino as the strongest such event ever in the modern meteorological record. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)
Two weeks ago, according to NOAA’s weekly El Nino monitor, average temperatures for the zone hit a +2.8 C positive anomaly. This extreme high temperature reading tied the weekly peak recorded by the NOAA measure in the same region during the record 1997-1998 El Nino. It looked like the 2015 El Nino was on track to at least tie the all time most intense El Nino ever recorded in the NOAA measure.
The 2015 El Nino, at that time had rocketed into record range. Any further strengthening and 2015 would be a monster El Nino year to beat out every other. And through the intervening time heat continued to build, spilling out of the ocean surface, pumping out volumes of heat and moisture that would have been considered unimaginable just a year and a half ago.
(The 1997 El Nino ramped up and peaked rapidly. In contrast, 2015 gradually built up from a start during 2014 and didn’t hit a rapid ramp until summer and fall of 2015. Currently, sea surface temperatures in the critical Nino 3.4 zone well exceed that of the 1997 event in the NOAA monitor. It is also worth noting that overall heat content throughout the 2015 event has been greater — with higher temperatures so far lasting longer than during the 1997-1998 El Nino. Image source: Jan Null at Golden Gate Weather via Twitter and Weather Underground.)
As a result, NOAA this week marked the hottest sea surface temperatures ever recorded in the NINO 3.4 zone of the Equatorial Pacific. Sea surface temperature anomalies for the region hit an extraordinary 3.0 degrees Celsius above the climatological average. This new reading shatters the old weekly record set for the 1997-1998 El Nino and is yet one more indication that the 2015 El Nino is a monster event without precedent in the global climate record. In other words, we’ve never seen anything like this before.
Early Indications that Heat Continues to Build
Despite the fact that the current El Nino has already shattered weekly temperature records, it appears that warming for the critical NINO 3.4 zone continued to build through November 16 and 17. Daily Sea Surface Temperature monitors, as provided graphically by Earth Nullschool give us a basis for comparison with the NOAA measure. And over the past two months a very rudimentary grid analysis of the data reimaged through Earth Nullschool has shown sea surface temperatures about 0.2 C hotter than the weekly NINO 3.4 averages provided by NOAA.
Yesterday, this analysis provided a reading of 3.4 degrees Celsius above average in the NINO 3.4 zone — roughly corresponding with a NOAA reading in the range of 3.2 C above average. Today, the reading is in the range of 3.3 C hotter than average — corresponding with a NOAA reading near 3.1 C above average.
(The Equatorial Pacific Ocean splits open and disgorges a record amount of heat in today’s Earth Nullschool sea surface temperature anomaly graphic. What we are seeing, at this time, is what is shaping up to be the strongest El Nino ever recorded in the climate record. An event that is likely driven, at least in part, by the extraordinary volume of greenhouse gasses human beings have dumped into the Earth climate system. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)
Overall, the appearance, during recent days, of a band of 4 to 4.5 C above average sea surface temperatures stretching from 120 to 160 West along and near the Equator is yet one more indication that the current record El Nino has continued to intensify. And a broader look at the entire northern Pacific Ocean shows abnormal heat stretching all the way from Equator to Pole. This extra North Pacific heat, especially the hot zone off the West Coast of North America is providing an atmospheric and ocean inertia which pushes El Nino toward further strengthening even as it aids in the maintenance of El Nino conditions overall.
In other words, we may be near the peak of the 2015 El Nino. But the overall ocean picture and trend still points toward the possibility for more strengthening in store. And what this means is that more records are likely to fall over the coming weeks. That El Nino related weather around the world is likely to hit some amazing and potentially very dangerous extremes over the next four months. And that global temperatures are likely to explore new extreme record ranges, as we have already seen during October, over the coming 4-6 months.
Hat tip to Todaysguestis