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Steaming Equatorial Pacific Sees Winds Blowing Toward Monster El Nino

Last year, we raised a warning that the 2014-2015 El Nino could develop into a monster event. And, unfortunately, there is some indication that conditions may well be continuing in that direction.

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All across the broad belt of the Equatorial Pacific, sea surface temperatures are running in the hot-to-extraordinarily hot range. Starting just north and east of New Guinea, 1 C + above average temperature anomalies run uninterrupted to a zone near the date line where they encounter a hot pool in the range of +2.6 to +3.1 C above average. Running eastward, these high heat anomalies gradually taper off to +1.4 to +1.7 C along a 5,000 mile stretch before they again spike to +3 to +4 C above average just off the west coast of South America.

A massive zone of above average sea surface temperatures encompassing almost the entire width of the Equatorial Pacific:

image

(Pacific Ocean showing extreme heat anomalies across most regions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Hot equatorial waters in a Pacific Ocean that, from Arctic north to Austral south, from East Asian shores to the west coasts of the Americas is a morass of record high temperatures. An ocean zone featuring few and dwindling pools of lower than average readings. Oceans undergoing rising rates of heat-related sea creature die offs in waters that, when they warm, lose vital oxygen and host toxin-producing microbes that thrive in hot water.

It’s a freakishly hot Pacific. A strange ocean. One that we aren’t quite accustomed to. One in the grips of what is already a moderate strength El Nino. An El Nino that, combined with an extraordinary human greenhouse gas heat forcing, has pushed global surface temperatures into record high range for 2014 and the first three months of 2015 thus far. An El Nino which is now threatening a new leap to monster status.

For a powerful Kelvin Wave is presently lending heat to equatorial surface waters after receiving a boost from gale force westerly winds associated with the strongest Madden Julian Oscillation on record this past March. An raging equatorial heat engine that is now drawing yet more energy from a second set of strong westerlies developing this week.

image

(Strong westerlies emerging in the Western Pacific on May 6 may provide yet another boost to the 2014-2015 El Nino. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the above GFS summary, we find sustained winds in the range of 30 mph with gale force gusts in a region along and just north of the Equator near New Guinea. The winds are in association with a developing cyclone, one that models indicate will reach strong Typhoon status later this week. The westerlies stretch westward along the back of New Guinea and on toward the Philippines. There, they receive a boost from another cyclone — Tropical Storm Noul.

The result is a brisk set of westerlies running against the trades along hundreds of miles of open ocean. The kind of event with the potential to further strengthen an El Nino that is already at respectable intensity.

This week’s CFSv2 NOAA forecast models continued to indicate an extreme strength El Nino by later this year. Weighted models are now showing seasonal anomalies in the Nino 3.4 zone peaking out at +2.3 C. Weighted monthly models are showing peaks in the range of +2.5 C above average for Nino 3.4. And unweighted models are showing peak averages that now exceed +3.1 C. This is a jump from last week’s CFSv2 forecast. Another set in a continued trend for higher intensity.

Monster El Nino forecast

(NOAA’s forecast models show potential for extreme El Nino starting in June and extending into January. Image source: NOAA.)

Should such an event emerge it would truly be a monster. Something far worse than even the Super El Nino of 1998.

An extraordinary El Nino of this kind would have far-reaching climate and weather related impacts. It would push global temperatures into ever more dangerous ranges. It would strain global carbon sinks. And it would worsen drought and/or set off heavy precipitation events in various, already vulnerable regions of the globe. With model forecasts continuing to hit higher values, with so much available heat to fuel El Nino ranging the Pacific, and with strong westerlies continuing to reinforce the current El Nino, this is a situation that bears very serious continued monitoring.

Links:

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Earth Nullschool

March Shows Strongest Madden Julian Oscillation on Record

Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish

 

 

 

 

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Onrush of Second Monster Kelvin Wave Raises Specter of 2015 Super El Nino

And so it appears we are living in a time of Monster Kelvin Waves — powerful confluences of Pacific Ocean heat running just beneath the surface — bringing with them the potential for both record global temperature spikes and strong, climate-wracking El Nino events.

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Last year, a powerful pulse of sub-surface heat called a Kelvin Wave rippled across the Equatorial Pacific. It shoved sub-surface temperature anomalies into an extreme range of 6 degrees Celsius above average at a depth of 90-130 meters over an equatorial zone stretching out for hundreds of miles. Overall, this heat surge pushed anomalies below the rippling waves of the vast Equatorial Pacific from New Guinea to the Central American Coastline above 1.8 degrees C hotter than average.

image

(Building heat in Pacific Equatorial Surface waters on April 9 of 2015 — a sign of a massive pulse of hotter than normal water running at about 100 meters depth. A heat pulse that may be setting in place conditions for a powerful El Nino later this year. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast System Model.)

This immense heat pulse was enough to shove the equatorial region inexorably toward El Nino status. By September, mid-ocean values were hot enough to have reached the critical threshold of 0.5 C above surface value average. Perhaps more importantly, the Winter/Spring 2014 Kelvin Wave also contributed to record positive PDO values for the Pacific by December of 2014. A surface heat departure that was unprecedented to modern climates. Block-busting ocean warmth that almost certainly spurred 2014 global atmospheric temperatures to new all-time record highs in the current age of human warming.

Monster Kelvin Wave Redux

Now, a second, and equally strong monster Kelvin Wave is again rippling across the Pacific Ocean subsurface zone. A powerful pulse of heat that will reinforce the current weak, mid-ocean El Nino, lend energy to ridiculously warm Pacific Ocean sea surface states, and pave the way for a long-duration equatorial heat spike.

monster kelvin wave redux

(Monster Kelvin Wave Redux. A second powerful Kelvin Wave is surging across the Pacific Equatorial Subsurface zones, strengthing prospects for both a continued El Nino and for a record hot year in 2015. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

As we can see in the NOAA CPC rendering above, the current Kelvin Wave is a massive and extraordinarily warm beast of a thing. It encompasses most of the thousands-miles broad Equatorial Pacific with its hottest zone peaking at 5-6 degrees Celsius above average temperatures — a region that stretches from near the Date Line all the way to just west of Central America. At +1.75 C for the entire below-surface equatorial region, the current Kelvin Wave is already approaching last year’s peak values. Values it may well exceed in the coming days.

Overall, the current Kelvin Wave seems to have more connection to the surface environment than last year’s powerful surge. A massive plug of Pacific Ocean heat readying to belch back into the atmosphere.

Some Models Show Potential For Super El Nino

Already, NOAA is upping its forecast chances for El Nino to continue through summer to 70 percent and is placing a greater than 60 percent chance that El Nino will stretch on through late autumn. An upshot from earlier predictions made just a little more than a month ago that El Nino formation for 2015 remained uncertain. Now, we have a rather high certainty that El Nino will continue throughout at least the next 4-6 months.

But perhaps more concerning is the fact that a strong El Nino is again starting to show up in some of the long range models. NOAA’s CFS ensemble shows El Nino continuing to steadily strengthen throughout 2015 reaching overall Nino 3.4 surface values above +2.1 C by October, November and December of this year:

nino34Sea

glbSSTSeaInd6

(Top frame shows predicted sea surface temperature anomalies in the critical Nino 3.4 zone exceeding 2.2 C by late 2015. Such an event would be a monster to rival or possibly exceed 1998. The lower frame shows sea surface temperature departures for the entire globe. Note the seasonal spike of 2-3+ C above average for the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. Image Source: NOAA’s Seasonal Climate Forecast.)

The departures we see in this long range forecast are extraordinary — rivaling or possibly exceeding the intensity of the 1998 Super El Nino. An event of this kind would result in powerful ocean and atmospheric surface temperature spikes, catapulting us well beyond the climate range previously established by the 1998 event. Globally, we would be entering new, record hot territory, possibly approaching 1 C above 1880s values for the 2015-2016 period.

Troubling Situation With High Uncertainty

As such, we should consider this to be a troubling situation, in need of close, continued monitoring. To this point, it is worth noting that El Nino prediction during Spring is highly uncertain. Last year’s very strong Kelvin Wave also set off predictions for a moderate-to-strong El Nino event by summer-through-fall. Though El Nino did eventually emerge, it was weaker and later in coming than expected. Now, a new set of conditions is setting up similar, and perhaps, even more intense ocean and atmosphere heat potentials.

Though still uncertain, what we observe now are ocean conditions that raise potentials for both extreme El Nino and human-warming related weather. Powerful ocean heat pulses of the kind we observe now, when combined with an extraordinary human greenhouse gas heat forcing, also increases the likelihood of another record warm year. El Nino associated droughts and heatwaves — particularly for South America, India, Australia and Europe through Central Asia are at rising risk. In the event of mid-ocean El Nino, the risk increases that the 1200 year California drought will continue or even intensify. If the heat pulse shifts eastward, a switch to much heavier rainfall (potentially terribly heavy) could coincide with a breaking of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge pattern that has warded moisture away from the US West Coast for nearly three years. Extra heat of this kind would also tend to enhance precipitation extremes — more rain when it does rain and far more intense drought in areas affected by heat and atmospheric ridging.

Given the patterns we have observed over the last year, we could expect worsening conditions for some regions (India, Australia, some sections of South America, Eastern Europe) and the potential for a shift from one extreme to the next for other regions (US West Coast). These potentials depend on the disposition and intensity of surface heat in the Pacific, which bears an even closer watch going forward.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA’s April 9 El Nino Statement

NOAA’s Seasonal Climate Forecast

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast System Model

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths?

Atmospheric Warming to Ramp up as PDO Swings Positive?

Record Warm World’s ‘Weird’ 2015 El Nino Sees Westerly Gales, Growing Kelvin Wave

“The 2015 El Nino is finally here, but it’s weak, weird and late,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center last week.

And the current El Nino is certainly an odd bird. According to reports from NOAA and the National Weather Service, the center of highest sea surface temperatures for the El Nino this year is offset westward — coming closer to the date line than it typically does. This is a weird heat disposition for El Nino which is, at least, a mid ocean event and often pushes warming well across the Pacific to South American shores.

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(Pacific sea surface temperature anomaly [SSTA]. Note the hot water pools off both Australia and North America. These zones are joined by a vast blanket of warmer than average waters arranged diagonally across the Pacific from SW to NE. This disposition includes the warm anomaly along the Equator which is hot enough to reach weak El Nino status. But the disposition of sea surface temperatures throughout the Pacific, with highest equatorial anomalies near the date line and warmer spikes near Australia and the North American West Coast is unusual. SSTA graphic provided by Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast System Model and NCEP.)

It’s also late in coming, as typical El Ninos have tended to arrive in full form during late fall or early winter. A Christmas-time warming of waters off the West Coast of South America was a traditional call-sign for El Nino and one that resulted in its name — which is Spanish for “The Christ Child.” Late winter and early spring are more typical times for the formation of deeper warmer water that may trigger an El Nino later in the year but often do not herald a fully-developed event (see What is El Nino? for more related information).

Lastly, the El Nino is currently rather weak — barely meeting a requirement for El Nino from NOAA and still not reaching the threshold that Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology applies.

But despite all this relative oddity, the 2015 El Nino is here. And it appears to be growing.

Intense West Wind Back-burst Coincident with Powerful Cyclone Formation

For earlier this week strong westerly winds began to roar against the typical flow of the trades along the Equator. The west wind back-bursts (WWB) push warmer West Pacific waters eastward and downward, enhancing the sea surface temperature anomaly spikes that fuel El Nino.

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(Very strong West Wind Back-Burst hosting 85 kph 10 minute west wind at 7.45 South Latitude on early March 11. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As of early Wednesday, March 11, these west winds had formed a gale force wall stretching just past the date line from about 5 North Latitude to 10 South Latitude. A gale driven by parallel cyclones — a weaker system to the north (Bavi) and the newly gathering Pam, which may challenge south Pacific records as the strongest storm ever to form in that region. In the above graphic we see a related ten minute sustained WWB of a rather extraordinary 85 kilometers per hour (about 50 mph) along the 7.45 degree South Latitude line.

Strengthening Kelvin Wave in a Record Warm World

Just before the formation of these strong westerlies, sub-surface temperatures also began to spike. A warm Kelvin wave that had already started its run beneath the sea surface, as of March 4, was beginning to show signs of strengthening well in advance of the added shove coming from the vigorous WWB shown above.

Strengthening Kelvin Wave

(A new Monster Kelvin wave? Sub surface temperature anomalies are again entering the far above normal range for the Equatorial Pacific. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

Peak temperatures in the wave as of a week ago had hit more than +6 C above average. A heat signature that is starting to look, more and more, like the very powerful Kelvin Wave of early 2014 that belched so much warmth into the atmosphere and likely contributed to both the current strongly positive PDO as well as 2014’s new record high temperatures.

An event that top ocean and atmospheric scientists Kevin Trenberth and Axel Timmerman attribute to signalling a possible start to much more rapid atmospheric temperature increases.

The Kind of Mid-Ocean Event That Some Scientists Say we Should See More of

If this is the case, then what we may be seeing is a slow start to an El Nino that could be much stronger and longer than expected. Last year’s intense Kelvin Wave may have simply been preparation for a slowly building event in conjunction with what was, during December, a record broader warming of the Pacific called positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Some model runs, especially those at Australia’s BoM, appear to have picked up this track.

In addition, NOAA sea surface temperature models now are predicting continued Central Pacific Warming (CPW) in association with the current El Nino over the coming months. If this El Nino continues to progress along CPW warming lines, then it is likely to be more indicative of what Japanese scientists call an El Nino Modoki event:

El Nino Modoki

(Sea surface temperature signature of an El Nino Modoki, which is closer to what we are seeing now, even if the higher temperature levels are currently shifted more toward the Date Line. Image source: Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science.)

During recent years, some scientific reports have indicated that Central Pacific Warming or El Nino Modoki will be more prevalent as a result of human-caused climate change. Study authors Tong Lee and Michael J McPhaden, in the 2010 paper entitled Increasing Intensity of El Nino in the Central Equatorial Pacific note that increases in Pacific Ocean temperatures are primarily expressed through more intense warming of the central regions:

Satellite observations suggest that the intensity of El Niño events in the central equatorial Pacific (CP) has almost doubled in the past three decades, with the strongest warming occurring in 2009–10. This is related to the increasing intensity as well as occurrence frequency of the so-called CP El Niño events since the 1990s. While sea surface temperature (SST) in the CP region during El Niño years has been increasing, those during neutral and La Niña years have not. Therefore, the well-documented warming trend of the warm pool in the CP region is primarily a result of more intense El Niño events rather than a general rise of background SST.

If so, it seems possible that global warming may well be influencing the rather strange El Nino evolution we are witnessing now.

In any case, Central Pacific Warming El Ninos have a somewhat different impact than Eastern Pacific Warming El Ninos. For one, they tend to ramp up, rather than cool down North Atlantic Hurricanes. They also tend to result in more, not less, drought for the US West Coast. For India, mid-ocean warming of the kind we are seeing now can result in an enhanced disruption of the Asian monsoon — kicking off drought and related food security risks.

Tong Lee and Michael J McPhaden continue by adding:

…. the amplitude of this new type of El Niño has increased in recent decades (Lee and McPhaden 2010). For convenience, hereinafter we refer this new type of El Niño as to CP warming (CPW). Compared with the canonical EPW, the CPW exhibits distinctly different impacts on worldwide climate. For example, the CPW shifts the anomalous convection westward and usually forms two anomalous Walker circulations in the tropical Pacific (Ashok et al. 2007; Weng et al. 2007; Weng et al. 2009). The westward displaced convection was suggested to be more effective in causing Indian drought (Kumar et al. 2006). The CPW increases hurricane frequency both in the Atlantic Ocean (Kim et al. 2009) and western North Pacific (Chen and Tam 2010), and also shifts tropical cyclone tracks in the western North Pacific (Hong et al. 2011).

But the authors’ research doesn’t directly point toward the odd seasonal change we are witnessing now, nor the off-setting of the initial hot pool about 1,500 kilometers further west than even during a typical El Nino Modoki event. For this reason, our ‘weird’ El Nino and equally weird and warm Central Pacific bear close watching.

Links:

El Nino Finally Here, But it’s Weak, Weird, and Late
NOAA
National Weather Service
What is El Nino?
NOAA’s ONI Index
BoM ENSO Wrap-up
Earth Nullschool
Global Forecast System Model
NCEP
Pam at Category 5 Strength
Warming Pacific Drives Global Temperatures
Bad Climate Outcomes
2015 El Nino to Bring Back-to-Back Hottest Years on Record?
Increasing Intensity of Central Pacific El Nino — Links to Climate Change
Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science
El Nino Declared as Climate Scientists Watch on With Amazement

Hat tip to Phil

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Timothy Chase

2015 El Nino to Bring Back-to-Back Hottest Years on Record?

For the past six months, the Pacific Ocean has been very, very warm. A vast and unsettling expanse of record heat building from the tropics on through the mid lattitudes and into the Arctic.

Sea surface temperatures across a broad swath of ocean from the equator on north and eastward have consistently measured between 0.5 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. A lazy reverse C pattern of heat stretching from the equator running up along the west coast of North America and then re-curving westward just south of the polar zone.

It is a pattern that is indicative of a well developed positive phase Pacific Decadal Oscillation. A kind of pattern that results in very warm sea surface temperatures for much of the Pacific. And a pattern that tends to favor the formation of El Nino.

As of December 2014, PDO values had climbed to their highest on record. And with these high sea surface temperature values related to PDO, the Pacific also seemed to be quietly settling into what, at first, appeared to be a mild El Nino.

Chances For 2015 El Nino Rise

The key value for El Nino is a measurement for sea surface temperatures along a region of the Central Equatorial Pacific known as Nino 3.4. Stretching from about 160 West to 120 West Longitude, this expansive zone of ocean waters below Hawaii tends to warm with the onset of El Nino.

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(Nino 3.4 zone in center of frame on the Earth Nullschool Sea Surface Temperature anomaly map for March 4, 2015 shows warm waters again building in the Central Pacific. Averages in the zone for this date are around +0.75 C above normal. Note the + 2 C hot pool just to the western edge of the zone [orange-yellow coloration] and the +4 C hot pools [yellow coloration] off the US West Coast. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast Systems Model.)

The threshold NOAA uses to determine El Nino is a sea surface temperature anomaly for this area of +0.5 degrees C above average. And ever since September of 2014, sea surface temperatures have been hovering above the +0.5 C line.

NOAA’s determination for El Nino requires 5 three month average periods in which Nino 3.4 exceeds this mark. And it looks like, so far, four out of five of those periods have met the El Nino requirement. September, October and November (SON) averaged +0.5 C. October, November and December (OND) averaged +0.7 C. And November, December and January (NDJ) averaged +0.7 C. With all weekly measures for February coming in near or above January values, it appears the DJF value will post somewhere near +0.6 C (please see NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Status Report).

Even if March values dropped to +0.4 C, a weak El Nino would emerge in the Pacific during Spring of 2015. However, sea surface temperatures for this zone are not falling as we enter March. They are instead ramping higher.

New Warm Kelvin Wave Forming

For beneath the Central Pacific a new pool of warm water is forming. It is rising to the surface, providing yet another shot of heat to an equatorial region teetering on the threshold of El Nino. A new Kelvin Wave that carries with it more than enough energy to tip the scales for a 2015 event:

El Nino Kelvin Wave

(Warm Kelvin Wave again forming in the Pacific. This event will likely be enough to push 2015 into El Nino. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

The Kelvin Wave will slowly rise to the surface, elongate and transfer some of its latent heat to the sea surface and atmosphere. Driving this Kelvin Wave along are west wind backbursts that today were in the range of 25 mph sustained with gusts to 35. These gusts are continuing to drive warm water eastward and downward, providing more energy for the Kelvin Wave as well as any emerging El Nino. A set of winds that could well grow stronger as a weather pattern know as the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is predicted to ramp up, bringing stormy weather and more counter trade wind air flows across the Western Pacific equatorial zone.

These combined factors have spurred Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to post a renewed El Nino Watch. NOAA is also showing a heightened chance for El Nino, with a near 60% probability for the event emerging late winter or early spring.

Meanwhile, some models for the Nino 3.4 region show continued warming along with a heightening El Nino throughout 2015:

2015 El Nino

(BoM Nino 3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) prediction model shows El Nino building throughout 2015. Note that the Australia BoM SSTA threshold is +0.8 C for Nino 3.4 while NOAA’s threshold is SSTA in excess of +0.5 C for seven months running. Image source: Bureau of Meterology.)

Back-to-Back Record Hot Years?

The +1.9 C peak and rising prediction for Nino 3.4 in the above graphic is indicative of a relatively strong El Nino by mid November of this year (for reference, the 1998 Super El Nino peaked at around +2.3 C for this region while 2010 peaked at +1.5 C). But even a far milder El Nino would likely have far-ranging consequences, especially in a world that has been pushed to keep warming and warming by the massive human fossil fuel emission.

All that heat again building along the equatorial Pacific would likely shove the Earth’s oceans and atmospheres again above record thresholds. And that would mean that 2014’s record as the hottest year for the Earth’s surface may only stand for but a few seasons more.

The risks for another record hot year for 2015 are, therefore, again rising.

UPDATE:

As of March 5, 2014, NOAA has now officially declared weak El Nino conditions for the Equatorial Pacific. Please see this related discussion LINK.

Links:

Bad Climate Outcomes

NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Status Report

NOAA/CPC

Australia’s Bureau of Meterology

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast Systems Model

Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO)

Hat Tips:

Colorado Bob

Phil

Scientific Hat tip to Kevin Trenberth and Michael Mann

Wili

Second Monster Kelvin Wave Forming? West Wind Back Bursts North of New Guinea Rival Intensities Last Seen in January.

This January, a powerful period of west wind bursts tapped a very hot, deep pool of Pacific Ocean water and shoved it eastward along the equator. The hot water was driven downward by Eckman pumping forces even as it began to propagate across the Pacific. The resulting Kelvin Wave was, by March, among the most intense sub-sea warming events ever seen for the Equatorial Pacific during this time of year.

By late May and through June, this heat had transferred to surface waters and the Equatorial Pacific, overall, had greatly warmed.

This initial warming prepped the ocean surface for continued atmospheric feedbacks and the emergence of an El Nino by sometime during the summer and fall of 2014. A monster event that, should it form on top of human-caused warming, could push both global temperature and weather extremes to record levels never before seen. But for El Nino to continue to emerge, more strong west wind back bursts are required to keep shoving the hot pool of Pacific Ocean water eastward, spreading it out across the Pacific and dumping its warmth into the atmosphere.

Now, during early July, just that appears to be happening.

image

(Strong west wind back burst visible in the Western Pacific north of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and just north of the Equator. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Numerous Including NOAA GFS.)

For along a synoptic band ranging from the Philippines to north of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands a powerful zone of west winds has emerged between two double-barrel low pressure systems. The first set of lows form a broad counter-clockwise circulation along the 10 degree North Latitude line. The second set hovers just south of the equator, forming a clockwise wind flow. These two wind patterns merge in a significant back-burst pushing against the traditional flow of the east-to-west trades.

Wind speeds in the anomaly zone are in the range of 30-40 kilometers per hour with higher gusts, or currently just shy of the wind strength observed during the very strong January west wind back burst.

Strong West Winds Tapping Pool of Very Hot Water

Hot Water Western Pacific

(Very hot water in the Western Pacific hitting 32 C [90 F] in some spots. Image source: NOAA/National Weather Service.)

It is worth noting that winds in this region have been slowly intensifying over the past few days. So any further increase in strength would make this event easily comparable to the January event that spawned such a powerful Kelvin Wave.

Surface waters in this west wind zone range from 86 to upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit over a broad zone along the equator and northward to a very hot pool just east of the Philippines. Eastward and downward propagation of such intensely hot water, driven by these strong west winds has the potential to generate a second strong Kelvin Wave. The back-burst winds we are seeing now are strong enough to generate such a wave and the sea surface temperatures in the region are at very high positive anomalies, especially in the region east of the Philippines. Propagation of a second strong Kelvin Wave would spike 0-300 meter temperatures again and would lock in the formation of the expected El Nino later this year.

Links:

NOAA GFS

Earth Nullschool

NOAA/National Weather Service

Climate Prediction Center ENSO Monitoring

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

 

Deep Ocean Warming is Coming Back to Haunt Us: Record Warmth for 2014 Likely As Equatorial Heat Rises

As prominent ocean researcher and climate scientist Dr. Kevin Trenberth presciently noted during recent years — an observed spike in ocean heat content over the past decade may well be coming back to haunt us.

Earlier this year the most intense sub-sea Kelvin Wave on record raged across the Pacific Ocean. Driven eastward by a series of strong westerly wind bursts, it traveled just below the surface, running out to collide with South America. By April, it had arrived in the traditional El Nino spawning grounds of the Eastern Equatorial Pacific where it retained an extreme intensity. There it sprawled, snuffing off the cold deep water upwelling that over the past few years has kept surface water temperatures in this critical region slightly cooler than average.

And so, from late March through mid-May, the Eastern Pacific warmed.

A surface warm pool sprang off the back of this beast, growing even as it continued to gather heat, radiating it back into the atmosphere. By yesterday, temperature anomaly values over this growing region had increased to between 1 and 3 C above average with local spikes up to +3.9 C — a far above normal temperature departure for ocean surface waters, especially near the stable equator. But if trends hold, this is just the beginning. An early start to what could be a record-setting event.

Today's GFS Model Summary of Sea Surface Temp Anomalies

(Today’s GFS model summary of global sea surface temperature anomalies. See the mottled red just off South America? That’s the head of an extraordinarily strong and massive Kelvin Wave breaking the surface. Image source: University of Maine.)

Today’s GFS global ocean temperature anomaly map shows the entire Equatorial Pacific well in the El Nino range at +0.60 C. The strong +1 to +3 C or greater hot zone, shown in orange to deep-red, stretches from about 140 West to 80 West Latitude along the equator and shows continued slow intensification.

Note that global sea surface temperatures for today are at an extraordinary +1.12 C above already warm 1979 to 2000 values. This marks more than a week of 1 C or greater positive ocean surface temperature anomalies. The very definition of Trenberth’s ocean heat content coming back to haunt us.

The El Nino Clock Begins

Meanwhile, NOAA weekly anomaly readings also show continued progression toward surface warming. Overall, the Nino zone 4 in the Central Pacific was at +0.8 C, the Nino 3.4 zone in the East- Central Pacific +0.5 C, the Nino 3 zone in the Eastern Pacific +0.6 C, and the Nino 1+2 zone just off the coast of Equatorial South America a very high +1.2 C. Overall, this shows strong warming over the broad Nino sector with the key Nino 3.4 zone flipping into low El Nino levels this week.

The emergence of Nino 3.4 into +0.5 C or greater territory marks the start point for the NOAA El Nino clock. For NOAA to declare El Nino, the Nino 3.4 zone must remain at +0.5 C or above for multiple months running. And forecast models, at this time, show nearly an 80% likelihood of just such an event for 2014.

So this week’s readings represent the crossing of a new threshold toward El Nino and certainly warrant further tracking.

Monster Kelvin Wave in Not-so-Cool Phase

The extreme Kelvin wave that raged across the Pacific from February through April still appears monstrous even though it has now entered its supposedly cool, upwelling phase. Pressed against the coast of South America, the heat has deflected both upward and downward through the water column. The result is both a continued heating at the surface and a downward thrust of 1-2 C above average water temperatures into the 400 meter below surface zone. And so here we have a continued down-thrust of the 20 C isotherm, priming the Pacific for another west-to east rush of deep ocean heat later this year.

Monster Kelvin Wave May 8

(This is supposed to be the Kelvin Wave’s cool phase. It’s not looking very cool. Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the still amazingly hot Kelvin Wave is upwelling. So it should also be cooling. And it has. A little. But what is extraordinary is the amount of heat it has retained even as it rises. Here we see an enormous slug of 5-6 + C above average water rising as high as 40 meters beneath the surface. Maintenance of this high heat content even while upwelling is an insane feat of heat propagation. Should these readings hit the surface, we really will be witnessing a monster event.

Already, the warming Eastern Pacific appears to be having a broader atmospheric affect. According to NASA, global surface temperatures spiked to their second highest level on record in April. Meanwhile, GFS model analysis shows May daily surface temperature values in the range of +0.7 to +1.0 C or higher above the 1950 to 1981 average globally. A continuation of these high temperatures would be enough to put May at first or second hottest on record and set a trend for 2014 to break global high temperature records last seen in 2010. So the early and not yet fully developed ocean surface heating we are seeing from our developing El Nino appears to have already come back to haunt us. But what we see now is minor compared to what could emerge.

With the sub-surface waters remaining so extraordinarily warm even through the upwelling/cool phase of the current Kelvin Wave, the Pacific is now primed for a second hot pulse to feed the monster now rising off South America. The new, reinforcing heat pulse will require another series of west wind back bursts at the surface between 160 East and 170 West Longitude to drive it. And atmospheric conditioning for the development of these winds appears well in play. Should it happen, we are likely to get a taste of what Dr. Trenberth really meant.

Dr. Trenberth Hints at PDO Flip

Along with these sobering thoughts, I leave you an excellent related interview Peter Sinclair conducted with Dr. Kevin Trenberth. In the interview, Trenberth predicts a + 0.2 to 0.3 C rise in global average temperatures due to Pacific Ocean surface heating and hints that a flip in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) from its current cool (negative) phase to a new warm (positive phase) may well be underway. Such a flip would indeed mean that a rapid spike in global surface temperatures is in the offing:

Links:

University of Maine

Monster El Nino Rising From the Depths

NASA: April 2014 was Second Hottest on Record

Ocean Heat Anomaly Spikes to New Extreme High of +1.16 C Above Average on May 10, 2014

Forecast Models Show Nearly 80% Chance of El Nino in 2014

Kevin Trenberth on El Nino

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)

 

 

 

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.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA ESRL

CPC/IRI

Ocean Data Points to Strong El Nino

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Potential For El Nino Spikes As Record Pacific Ocean Heat Content Continues to Emerge

Monster Kelvin Wave April 13

(Very powerful Kelvin Wave still moving eastward even as it begins to sink in off the coast of South America. Image source: NOAA.)

Likelihood for a significant El Nino later this year continued to increase as the most powerful Kelvin Wave on record continued its progress into the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. According NOAA’s recent April 13 assessment, the massive slug of anomalously hot Pacific subsurface waters continued to surge eastward, to deepen the 20 C isotherm and to spread out on or just below the surface.

NOAA’s most recent CPC report finds, in a bald refutation to assertions by climate change deniers, that:

A significant downwelling oceanic Kelvin wave that was initiated in January greatly increased the oceanic heat content to the largest March value in the historical record back to 1979 and produced large positive subsurface temperature anomalies across the central and eastern Pacific.

Extraordinary temperature departures in the range of 4-6 C above average stretched from a zone from 180 West Longitude to 80 West Longitude and ranged in depth from 30 to 70 meters. This very large zone of above average heat shattered global records even as it slid into position to begin re-delivering that excess to the atmosphere.

Perhaps more importantly, the nose of this wave of far warmer than normal water had begun to sag, pushing the 20 C isotherm deeper into the Eastern Pacific even as cooler water from the depths began to punch into the tail of the record hot Kelvin Wave, raising the 20 C isotherm in the Western Pacific. This downwelling force of a monster Kelvin wave appears to just now be initiating the start to a global weather-altering El Nino.

Hot Water Downwelling, Weakening Trade Winds

In the East, from 12 February to 13 April, the 20 C isotherm had plunged from about 25 meters below to around 100 meters of depth. During the same period, the isotherm from about 150 East Longitude to 170 West had risen from about 210 meters to 170 meters. At the subsurface, a continued rising of the isotherm in the West and its continued fall in the East would complete the transfer of warm waters across the Pacific and open the flood gates to the start of what could be an extraordinarily strong El Nino event as what is now a record Pacific Ocean heat content starts bleeding back to the atmosphere.

Pacific Isotherm Tilts East

(20 C isotherm continues to rise in the Western Pacific [left side of graph] even as it rises in the East [right side]. Image source: NOAA.)

On the surface, trade wind weakening and reversals continued with a significant, though milder than those seen in January and February, backflow emerging in early April east of the Solomon Islands and coinciding with rather weak trade winds across the Equatorial Pacific. Such conditions continued to provide surface impetus to transfer warm waters  across the Pacific even as record subsurface heat continued its transition eastward.

Chances for El Nino Rise

Accordingly, predictive forecasts both by NOAA and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology are showing increasing potentials that El Nino will emerge. NOAA’s forecast now indicates that the chance for El Nino has jumped to over 50% by this summer and to 66% by the end of the year. Australia’s forecast is now showing a greater than 70% chance of El Nino over the same period.

In addition, El Nino type influences are already beginning to appear in world weather systems. A recent report by Dr. Simon Wang found that precursor El Nino conditions combined with effects related to climate change such as Arctic sea ice loss to spur and enhance epic drought conditions in California. Southeast Asia is already experiencing heat and dryness that is typically associated with a developing El Nino. Northern Brazil is also seeing increasing levels of heat and drought. To the North, Siberia is experiencing an extraordinary April onset to fire season while the northeastern US is somewhat cooler than average due to the persistent and anomalous strength of a dipole of warm temperature extremes in western North America and cool temperature extremes in eastern North America.

Many of these impacts, though expected in a normal El Nino year appear to be enhanced by effects related to human caused climate change such as sea ice loss and an amplification of the hydrological cycle increasing the frequency of extreme rainfall, drought and fire events (as in the California drought and the southeast Asian and Siberian fires).

NOAA El Nino Potentials

(El Nino model runs by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center show 66% potential for El Nino Development by November, December and January of 2014-2015. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

During a typical strong El Nino year, global weather disruptions can cause severe damage resulting in reductions to world GDP by as much as 5%. But with the added and enhanced severe weather effects due to climate change interacting with El Nino, overall impacts could be far more destructive. In addition, a release of what is currently record Pacific Ocean heat content into the atmosphere will likely set off new high temperature extremes, further pushing the global climate system toward the very dangerous 2 C warming threshold.

Links:

NOAA

CPC/IRI

Climate scientists find link between sea ice loss, emerging El Nino, and record California Drought

Small Army of Firefighters Battles Siberian Blazes in April

Monster El Nino Rising From the Depths

El Nino Update: Monster Kelvin Wave Continues to Emerge and Intensify

Monster Kelvin Wave

(Kevin Wave continues to strengthen and propagate across the Pacific Ocean. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Record global temperatures, extraordinarily severe storms for the US West Coast and telegraphing on through the Central and Eastern US, a disruption of the Asian Monsoon and various regional growing seasons, record heat and drought in Northern Australia, severe drought and fires in the Amazon, the same throughout Eurasia and into the Siberian Arctic, another potential blow to Arctic sea ice. These and further extreme impacts are what could unfold if the extraordinarily powerful Kelvin Wave now racing toward the Pacific Ocean surface continues to disgorge its heat.

The most recent update from NOAA shows that the monster Kelvin Wave we reported on last week has continued to grow and intensify even as it shows no sign of slowing its rather ominous emergence from waters off the west coast of South America.

The pool of 4-6+ degree Celsius above average temperatures continues to widen and lengthen, now covering 85 degrees of longitude from 170 East to 105 West. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the zone of extreme 6+ C temperature anomalies has both widened and extended, covering about 50 degrees of longitude and swelling to a relative depth of about 30-40 meters. This is an extraordinarily intense temperature extreme that well exceeds those observed during the ramp-up to the record 1997-98 El Nino event.

Meanwhile, a smaller, but still disturbing, zone of 3-6+ C above average temperatures has now developed just 100 feet below the surface along a line near 100 degrees West Longitude. It is a very strong heat pulse, the head of the Kelvin Wave that by late March had pushed its nose up in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific.

Kelvin Wave Side Graph

(Deep, hot Pacific Ocean water continues to shift east. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

In the above NOAA graph we can see the hot, deep pool in the Western Pacific gradually flowing eastward, spreading out and shallowing as it begins to dump its heat content back into the atmosphere. A return of stored ocean heat that will, likely, spike global atmospheric temperature values all while sparking off a series of very extreme weather events.

Warm Storms Continuing to Pull Heat Eastward and Upward

The west-to-east progression and upwelling of Pacific Ocean heat is currently facilitated by low pressure systems lining up along the equator. The lows are fed by heat and evaporation bleeding off the Pacific Ocean surface. This heat enhances the formation of thunderstorms that join into larger, heat-driven cyclonic systems. The countervailing circulations of these systems act to slow the trade winds while allowing the hot pool to spread further and further east.

It is a pattern that tends to emerge at the beginning of most El Nino events. A self-reinforcing cycle that draws energy from ocean surface heat even as its intensity is enhanced more and more by heat transfer from the depths.

GFS Model North Pacific

(GFS model guidance through April 13 shows a persistent cyclone off New Guinea interrupting the trade winds — lower left — even as a long trough is predicted to form over the Eastern Pacific just north of the Equator — lower right. This pattern would tend to enhance the formation of El Nino conditions throughout the forecast period. Image source: NOAA)

It is the kind of cycle in which the excess Ocean heat, amplified by human-caused global warming, and long stored in the Pacific, as Dr. Kevin Trenberth well observed, may now be coming back to haunt us.

Conditions of a Human-Altered ENSO Cycle Compared to the Most Recent Warming at the End of the Last Ice Age

The La Nina to El Nino cycle (ENSO) is part of a larger ocean and air energy transfer pattern in which heat is periodically stored in the vast equatorial waters of the Pacific before being returned again to the atmosphere. In a normal climate state, this dance of heat energy between the airs and the waters would result in simple periodic variation appearing at the peak of either La Nina (atmospheric cool extreme) or El Nino (atmospheric warm extreme). But because human warming has now added a very strong and rapid heat forcing to this natural cycle of variability, La Nina periods have displayed slower rates of atmospheric warming (where they should have showed cooling) and El Nino periods have often resulted in temperatures spiking to new global records.

Natural variation, in this case, rests on a curve that we are forcing to bend inexorably upward.

Of the .8 degrees Celsius worth of annual global warming experienced since the 1880s, about .15 C, or nearly 20 percent of this warming, occurred during the powerful 1997-98 El Nino event in which vast amounts of stored ocean heat returned to the atmosphere. Since 1998, the Pacific Ocean has undergone a long period of La Nina events in which a large store of atmospheric heat was transferred to the global ocean system. But despite this enormous heat transfer, global temperatures continued to climb with new records achieved in 2005 and 2010 during relatively weak to moderate El Nino events.

For the currently emerging El Nino, all indications point toward it being as strong or stronger than the extraordinarily powerful 1997-98 El Nino, perhaps readying to raise global temperatures by another .15 C or more.

April 1 sea surface temperature anomaly

(April 1 Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly Map shows a band of 1-3 C above average temperatures covering the Equatorial Pacific. It’s a marked difference from the slightly cooler than average conditions that have dominated for much of the past year. Given the current Pacific Ocean weather context and the very strong Kelvin Wave lurking just beneath the surface, it appears to be the start of a powerful El Nino phase. Image source: NOAA/ESRL)

For context, the difference between the 1880s and the last ice age was about 4 degrees Celsius. A temperature change that took about 10,000 years to complete. The total current warming of .8 C is equal to about 20% of the difference between the 19th Century and an ice age, but on the side of hot. This warming occurred at extraordinary velocity, over the course of little more than a century. An extreme pace of warming now between 30 and 40 times faster than that at the end of the last ice age. A pace of global heat accumulation that has not been seen in at least 65 million years.

Under business as usual fossil fuel emissions, even that very rapid pace of warming could more than triple over the coming decades, producing a warming equivalent to what occurred during the end of the last ice age over the course of 10,000 years in less than 200. A disastrous pace that will wreck untold harm on the world’s weather systems, climates, ocean systems, geographies and ecologies should it emerge. A pace of warming that likely has no corollary even in the Permian Hot House Extinction Event of 250 million years ago.

In the current cycle of human warming, a strong El Nino can push that measure by as much as 5% or more in just a single year. So we may well see global average temperatures of 1 C higher than 1880s values by the end of 2014-2015 should the current and very powerful El Nino continue to emerge.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Monster El Nino Emerging in the Pacific

NOAA/GFS

NOAA/ESRL

Global Heating Accelerates, Deep Ocean Warming the Fastest, What Does it Mean for Methane Hydrates?

A Deadly Climb From Glaciation to Hothouse — Why the Permian Extinction is Pertinent to Human Warming

NOAA: El Nino is Coming, Extreme Weather, New Global High Temperature Records Likely to Follow

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths. Nose of Massive Kelvin Wave Breaks Surface in Eastern Pacific

Monster El Nino

(A monster Kelvin wave, possibly more powerful than the 1997-98 event, is now rushing toward the surface of the Eastern Pacific. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

We are observing an extraordinarily powerful Kelvin Wave, one that was likely intensified by factors related to human global warming, traveling across the Pacific. It appears to be an epic event in the making. One that may be hotter and stronger than even the record-shattering 1997-98 El Nino. What this means is that we may well be staring down the throat of a global warming riled monster.

*   *    *    *    *

Ever since the early 2000s very strong east to west trade winds have been blowing across the Pacific. By around 2010, the force of this wind pattern had risen to never before seen records. Over the years, these record winds piled very warm waters in a region of the world east of the Philippines and Australia. As the pool grew warmer, evaporation increased and salinity levels in the hot water pool spiked. Increasing salinity in the zone resulted in a down-welling current that transferred heat into the ocean’s depths.

By 2013, this hot water pool had grown into a vast abyss of heat. Cyclones forming over this zone experienced a kick in intensity as the typical upwelling force of their winds only dredged more hot water from the ocean deeps. It was a pattern that is contrary to typical tropical storm dynamics in which cooler waters drawn up by intense storms tend to limit their peak strength. Not so with mega-typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever to strike land. The cyclonic wind pattern only dredged more heat from the extraordinarily deep hot water. And so the storm only grew stronger and stronger, knowing little in the way of limits before it barreled into an already storm-battered Philippines.

After Haiyan’s passage, the heat pool remained, only growing deeper and more intense, waiting for a change in the wind. And by January of 2014, that wind change was already well on its way.

In Deep, Hot Water

Like an enormous bag waiting to burst eastward, the hot water pool contained temperatures of 29-30 degrees C or hotter and sagged deep, extending up to 150 meters below the ocean surface. A vast stretch of explosive heat that had been held in check from an equatorial surge only by the strongest trade winds on record. But by January, those trade winds had faded. The east-west flow first weakened, then it fluttered, then it died, allowing the wind direction to reverse.

Strong Trade Winds Hot Ocean

(Did strong trade winds intensify the current Kelvin Wave by piling hot water into the Western Pacific? Top graph shows ocean heat content rise, bottom graph shows zonal wind strength of the trade winds through 2011. Note that IPO — Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation — divergence roughly correlates with trade wind intensity fluctuation. Image source: England Study.)

This trade wind reversal has, since January, been facilitated by a string of explosive low pressure systems that developed in the vicinity of the Western Pacific both south and north of the equator. Northern hemisphere storms circulate in a counter-clockwise fashion while southern hemisphere storms circulate clockwise. When the storms line up, they kick storm winds out along the equator, providing strong reversals to the trade winds and further shoving our hot, monster Kelvin Wave to the east.

And as the trade winds fell and reversed due to this sporadic assault of countervailing storms, the hot, deep pool of water surged eastwards. To those on the surface, the motion was invisible. And but for a series of floats spread throughout the Pacific, we would never know a monster thing was rushing along toward the east at a depth of about 150 meters below.

But the floats did their work and by late February it looked like a rather strong heat pulse was on its way across the Pacific Ocean. Risks began to dramatically increase that the heat would breach the surface of the Eastern Equatorial Pacific and set in place the globe-altering weather pattern called El Nino. In a world where human warming was already having serious impacts, the emergence of a new, potentially strong El Nino was not at all a welcome sign. For one, it meant new global high temperature records were likely to soon follow.

It also meant that world food security may well be about to receive yet one more staggering blow.

First Warnings

As the signal for a new El Nino began to appear in the models during late February, NOAA started to issue watches and predictions. Initial estimates were for a 52% chance of El Nino by late 2014.

These warnings caused a ripple of concern through the global food markets. Already reeling under the insults of a series of severe, climate change induced, droughts from Brazil and Argentina, to California and Texas, to the Middle East, to China, the world’s growers were hardly prepared for another series of anomalous weather events. Russia rolling into bread-basket Ukraine further set anxieties alight. But the threat of even a moderate El Nino and its associated droughts and extreme weather seemed to be a rising perfect storm for what was already a terrible year.

Growers in Southeast Asia chided forecasters in the West, with some cautioning that El Nino trackers do their best to quiet down so as not to induce a panic.

Southeast Asia often experiences an interruption of the annual monsoon in association with El Nino. So the region, which was already suffering from ground water shortages, lowering glacial outflows and sporadic periods of intense drought — all conditions related to growth, over-consumption and climate change — could ill afford yet one more strike against it.

Still, the strike appeared to be gathering heat and steam.

A Rising Monster Pushing the Tip of Its Nose up in the Eastern Pacific

As growers and states with marginal or bad food security grew more anxious, the hot water surge intensified. Researchers independent of NOAA began to issue estimates for a 60, 70 even 80% probability for the emergence of El Nino. Others, tracking what now appeared to be the hottest Kelvin wave ever seen, began to issue warnings that a monster event may well be on the way.

Deep Hot Water

(Most recent NOAA Kelvin Wave assessment. Top panel shows deep water high temperature anomalies telegraphing across the Pacific and pushing toward the surface. Large, deep pool of hot water providing energy to for the wave is visible in the bottom panel. Image source: NOAA.)

At issue were deep ocean temperature anomalies that were now rushing across the Pacific and beginning to rise toward the surface. The zone in late February that had indicated temperature anomalies in the range of +4-6 C was over an area of approximately 48 degrees of longitude. By March 19, the hot zone of 4-6 C above normal temperatures had expanded to cover about 62 degrees of longitude, and contained a hotter 5-6 C anomaly zone that was now larger than the 4-6 C zone from late February. The deep, hot water pool in the Western Pacific was now beginning to set up a kind of bridge in which it could transfer east, dump its heat into the atmosphere and disrupt global weather. Perhaps, somewhat more disturbing, it was linking to a deep pool of warmer water off the coast of South America (also see animation at the top of this post).

By comparison, the monster El Nino of 1997 featured a Kelvin Wave covering about the same area but whose high temperature anomalies only peaked out at about 4.5 C above average. So the current Kelvin wave is of approximately the same size but, based on current observations, appears to contain more heat.

The Kelvin wave had also begun to tilt up in the front with its ‘nose’ just starting to break the Pacific Ocean surface at between 120 and 100 West Longitude. This put the tip of the rising heat spike almost due south of Baja California and almost due west of the Peru and Ecuador border as of yesterday, March 23.

Monster El Nino Shows Nose

(Monster El Nino pokes the tip of its nose through Pacific surface waters between 120 W longitude and 100 W longitude along the equator. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

In the above ocean temperature anomaly measure for March 23, 2014, we can see a hot pool in the range of 1 to 2 C above average beginning to emerge between 120 and 100 West Longitude. It is a heat pulse that has eliminated all but the closest near-shore cool upwelling along the west coast of South America.

Should the rest of the Kelvin wave follow, spot temperature anomalies in this region will spike well above 4 C and possibly has high as 5-6 C. Such an event would be even stronger than the one seen in 1997-98, drive global temperatures about .05 to .2 C hotter than previous records in a single year, and set off a series of extreme weather that, when combined with the already severe conditions set in place by human-caused warming, may well be far in excess of those seen during past events.

Links:

NOAA/ESRL

England Study

Abnormally Hot, Deep Pacific Ocean Waters Explode Haiyan into Monster Storm

NOAA El Nino Monitoring

Climate Change Pushing World to the Brink of Food Crisis

The Monsters of Growth Shock Rise: Conflict in the Ukraine, Global Food Crisis, and Spending 500 Billion Dollars to Wreck the Climate

India Times Chides Western Meteorologists about El Nino Predictions

Unusually Intense El Nino May Lie Ahead, Scientists Say

Disquieting Facts About El Nino

Washington Post: A Super El Nino May be on the Way

US Atmospheric Scientists Predict Intense El Nino

Weather Centre: Could the Next Super El Nino Be Forming?

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