By Andrew Freedman
9 July 2015
(Mashable) – El Niño conditions are intensifying in the tropical Pacific Ocean, potentially leading to a record event that would help control rainfall in East Africa and possibly bring desperately needed drought relief to California, while temporarily cutting off rainfall to parts of the Indonesian rainforest.
A record strong event would also virtually guarantee that 2015 will beat 2014 as the warmest year this planet has seen since records began in the late 19th century.
In recent weeks, the water temperatures have grown warmer, propelled by a reversal of seasonal trade winds and the sloshing of mild ocean waters from west to east across the Pacific.
The atmosphere has shown telltale signs of positive feedback that are reinforcing the El Niño, including the formation of several tropical cyclones spinning in the central and northwestern Pacific Basins.
Taking these observations into account, a new forecast released Thursday by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) in Maryland calls for a strong El Niño event to occur between now and the coming northern hemisphere winter, which is when El Niño conditions tend to peak, as well as when they have their greatest influence on global weather patterns.
According to a more detailed forecast from the CPC and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University, there is a 96% chance of continued El Niño conditions from September through November, with a 94% chance of such conditions lasting through January.
The CPC outlook can be viewed as conservative when it comes to the predicted intensity of the El Niño event, considering that many individual El Niño experts, armchair meteorologists on Twitter, and individual computer model runs are predicting a potentially record strong event, exceeding the previous record-holder of 1997-98. El Niño data extends back to 1870.
The CPC takes such models into account when making its forecasts.
However, Michelle L'Heureux, a climate forecaster at CPC, told Mashable that the hype surrounding the potentially unprecedented intensity of the El Niño may be just that, hype.
"Even one or two westerly wind bursts does not necessarily always "make" an El Niño," she wrote in an email.
"Last year is a perfect example of that... a few westerly wind bursts in early 2014 and then they died out. It is the series of westerly wind bursts (or cumulative average over many months) that we forecasters pay attention to," she added. [more]