So what happened to the super El Niño we were promised?


Normally, winds across the Pacific flow east to west, with cold water dominating the eastern Pacific.
NOAA/Wikimedia

In May, Michael Slezak in New Scientist was warning of wild weather for the year ahead thanks to an impending major El Niño event.

The weather is preparing to go wild, and will wreak havoc and death around the globe later this year. An El Niño, a splurge of warm water in the Pacific Ocean, is coming. It will unleash floods in the Americas, while South-East Asia and Australia face drought. Yet little is being done to address these consequences.

The weather pattern occurs when warm water spreads eastwards from Indonesia and rises to the surface of the Pacific, taking rain from Asia and Australia and dumping it on the Americas – droughts and wildfires for some, floods and landslides for others.

As Slezak noted, the effects can be deadly.

A big El Niño in 1997-98 killed 20,000 people and caused almost $97 billion of damage.

But so far, nothing (or perhaps that should be "nada" as we're talking El Niño). At least nothing that could be branded a "super El Niño".

As Agus Santosa notes in the Conversation

The Bureau of Meteorology has brought the odds of an El Niño event down to 50%, from 70%. Even if it hits, most authorities are forecasting a weak to moderate event. Not that this should make seasonal weather watchers any less wary. Even a moderate El Niño can significantly affect Australia’s rainfall.

But Santosa questions whether the betting markets are right. He points out that we have been caught out before by dismissing the chances of a super event.

The second-largest El Niño event on modern record, which hit in 1982/83, developed rather slowly before rapidly picking up in late August.

He points to recent signs that the development of El Niño conditions may be picking up again.

...the July average temperatures are still comparable to 1982. In particular, as you can see, the Southern Oscillation Index has also recently turned negative again — indicating a possible El Niño.

Although not as dramatic as this year, the 1982/83 event also showed a weakening in May to July. The 1982 anomalies then picked up rapidly to deliver the second-strongest El Niño in modern record.

No one knows quite what will happen. The recent changes in temperature make it more likely, but we’ll have to keep watching to know for sure, says Santosa.

During an El Niño, warm water spreads right across the Pacific Ocean, and the winds reverse.
NOAA/Wikimedia

  1. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229682.400-world-is-unprepared-for-major-el-nino-later-this-year.html#.VBo8ZRYXH7N
  2. http://theconversation.com/dont-dismiss-a-2014-super-el-ni-o-just-yet-30720
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