Not again! Meteorologists abuzz about El Nino in drought

Last year at this time a huge wave of heat was detected propagating as the scientists say through surface waters from east to west across the Pacific. Ultimately a series of such "Kelvin waves"  went on to warm much of the tropical Pacific, and waters along the West Coast, resulting in huge changes in sealife.

Once in a while, on a schedule seemingly impossible to predict, what happens in the Pacific can drive a series of meteorogical events leading to great floods of rain along the West Coast. A big big El Niño.

"The great wet hope," as Bill Patzert of NASA likes to say. 

It didn't happen last year, and meteorologists this year, such as Daniel Swain of Weather West, sound a little abashed discussing the possibility again for this year. 

Well, as most of us are aware by now, that didn’t happen, and the projections from winter/spring 2014 represent a considerable forecast failure on the part of the models typically used to make long-lead ENSO [forecasts. Instead, the world bore witness to an El Niño event that barely reached the threshold for a marginal event–and, for the most part, didn’t exhibit the kind of ocean-atmosphere “coupling” we might typically expect. Persistent weakening of the easterly trade winds simply didn’t happen, and the incipient event just couldn’t sustain itself through the winter.

In short you can't trust the models. No matter how smart the researchers may be. 

As I reported recently, Jeanine Jones, a high-ranking official in the California Department of Water Resources also questioned the usefulness of those models in a long talk at a high-level national drought conference last month.

Further, she pointed out that the mere mention of the speculation of "the great wet hope" substantially reduces water conservation. 

Swain concedes that May is still too early to observe an El Niño event and alludes to a

Spring Predictability Barrier–the period during which long-lead ENSO forecasts remain challenging due to the chaotic nature of the ocean-atmosphere system.

Again Swain points out that — in short — you can't trust the models. As if to say, don't even roll that dice. 

Yet and still, he cannot help but be tantalized by the magnitude of the changes in ocean temperature that are being charted by a host of different research teams:


They're literally off the charts. Not to mention the strong westerly wind bursts, and the typhoon connection. Turns out the Pacific is in record-setting mode when it comes to creating Category 5 typhoons. We've had five already, and the first was an all-timer, with sustained winds of 160 mph. 

Here's what it looked like from the International Space Station. Super Typhoon Maysak:


The last time we had this many typhoons this early in the year? Jeff Masters

The global record for Category 5 storms is held by the El Niño year of 1997, which had twelve Category 5 storms–ten of them in the Northwest Pacific. The third Cat 5 of 1997 in the Northwest Pacific occurred on July 22, so we are more than two months ahead of that year's record pace. 

And of course, the El Niño of 1887-1998 was a Godzilla that literally changed the world.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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