Possible return to El Niño?

There’s a recent paper which is predicting a 75% chance of El Niño conditions returning late 2014. Should we be worried? I think so.

The last major El Niño event was in 1998 and it was the largest ever recorded and caused global temperatures to spike. Since then global surface temperatures have been creeping up only slowly and giving fuel to contrarians who claim this is proof that climate change is not real or nothing to worry about.

But global surface temperatures are but one measure of global warming. The others are melting ice, warming oceans, increased ocean acidity, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns and all of these things are happening. The reason surface temperatures have not risen as dramatically as they did the previous decade is complex and varied. The last decade has seen La Niña conditions dominate and La Niña years tend to be cooler; solar activity has been low; pollution (known as aerosols) reflects sunlight back into space; there are missing temperate measurements from the Arctic where warming is happening faster than anywhere else and strengthening trade winds have led to increased heat uptake in the Pacific ocean. So given all of these factors, some scientists are now asking why haven’t global surface temperatures not been falling over the past decade?

Contrarians also complain that climate models did not predict this slow-down in surface temperatures and yet they never mention that the climate models also failed to predict the speed with which the Arctic is melting. Speaking of which, the latest interactive of Arctic sea ice does not look good. (h/t to uknowispeaksense who I’ve pinched this image from). The yellow line is the current year.

Original image from http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

In previous years, when the Arctic has experienced record loss of sea ice, European winters immediately afterwards have been exceptionally cold. Scientists have also found a link between freezing cold springs and Arctic sea ice decline.

Given all of this, I find it very frustrating that there are many people still arguing that it’s not happening or that it’s nothing to worry about or even worse, that it’s too hard to solve as some of the comments in this thread seem to suggest. Someone told me once that they never hired anyone for a job who took this approach to problem-solving. If you approach the problem from the perspective that it can’t be solved then you’re not likely to succeed.

So what will a return to El Niño mean? For Australia it will mean hotter, dryer weather with increased risk of drought and bush fires. This is useful information to have in advance, particularly for farmers. I’d like to think that Australian politicians will take this prediction seriously even though they seem to completely ignore the longer term problem of climate change.

22 Replies to “Possible return to El Niño?”

  1. I remember El Nino when I lived in California and we had record rainfall, even floods in the town where we lived on the central coast. Now they have a terrible drought. I wonder what this will mean for the UK in light of all the recent storms etc.? Wouldn’t be surprised if we have a very cold spring again, although it is like a spring day today, warm and sunny. But it’s February…

    1. Hi Sherri,

      I’m not exactly sure what El Nino means for Britain. I’ve just done a quick search and all I can find is that it will bring more extreme weather to Britain which seems to be happening anyway.

    2. You may be interested in this Sherri, a blog post from the UK Met Office which finds that this winter has been the UK’s wettest on record with records dating back to 1910.

      1. Thanks for the link Rachel, I went over to take a look and yes, very interesting. I’ve signed up to follow. You can see how wet it was down our way!

  2. The slowing in temperature rise is probably due to the low level of sunspot activity over the past few years. It gave us something of a respite. It is now increasing and we will see more heat absorption.

    It looks as if the effect of CO2 will be cyclic. That is, the calorific level will build and then be somewhat expended by cataclysmic weather events like storms and El Nino. Logically, as the captured heat increases, the frequency and extremity of weather events will increase.

    I believe we are seeing the death throes of the contrarians. They are becoming laughable.

    Last word. Dame Julia Slingo (UK Meteorological Office, Chief Scientist), whilst trying to present an overall balanced view, has said “”There is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly rain events.” End of argument.


    Similarly, such predictions must also apply to other events like El Nino. The only remaining questions being the usual one of how do we deal with it and the question of how do we we predict the volatile and erratic.

    1. Graham,

      I believe we are seeing the death throes of the contrarians. They are becoming laughable.

      I hope you are right. I spend a bit of time reading some of the things contrarians write and say so I’m not entirely convinced this is the case. They seem to be out in force at the moment. But I might be getting a slightly skewed picture.

      That’s a good BBC article, thanks. I hadn’t seen it before.

    2. Graham,
      Read the Report by the Met. ” The Recent Storms and Floods in the UK .” The Summary will do .Go back three paragraphs from the quote you and the BBC highlight .Any finding that the BBC forgot to mention in its article?
      “As yet there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change to the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the recent flooding .”
      Now go to the ” UK Climate Projections Report ” to which the Met Office is a major contributor. See “Observed trends report 1.6”-
      “…. Over the second half of the twentieth century, there continues to be little evidence that the recent increase in storminess is related to man made climate change .”(2012, of course-perhaps an update)
      Now read The Spectator ,”Why the Met Office has hung its chief scientist ( Julia Slingo) out to dry “.18 Feb, 2014 by Andrew Montford.
      The Met Office has tried to blame the extraordinary weather on warmer waters in the tropical west Pacific and North Atlantic jet stream perturbations.
      The important quote in the Spectator and The Daily Mail is from climatologist ,Professor Mat Collins of Exeter University ,-
      “There is no evidence that global warming can cause the Jet Stream to get stuck in the way it has this winter.If this is due to climate change ,it is outside our knowledge.”
      In addition , the Met Office is still trying to recover from its 21/11/13 Three Month Outlook of below average precipitation .It doesn’t need further embarrassment from its chief scientist.
      Argument still over ?

      1. 1. Understand the word “definitive”
        2. Little or no evidence doesn’t mean not guilty.
        3. A causal link between our effects on climate change and the Polar Jet Streams has no precendent. It will take time but no excuse for sticking head in concrete.
        4. Julia Sligo in as an expert of over 30 years research into climate change. If someone of that eminence has the commitment and courage to make such a bold statement (for a scientist) then it should be respected as meaningful.

        Never was a meaningful argument.

      2. Doug,
        The Daily Mail is not a good source of information. See the Met Office response by Mat Collins to the Daily Mail article.

        An article by David Rose appeared yesterday in the Mail on Sunday entitled: ‘No, global warming did NOT cause the storms, says one of the Met Office’s most senior experts’

        In it he says that Mat Collins, Professor in Climate Systems at Exeter University, ‘appears to contradict’ the report released by the Met Office last weekend and that he ‘declined to comment on his difference in opinion’ with one of the report’s authors, Dame Julia Slingo.

        This is not the case and there is no disagreement.

        The report by the Met Office states that “As yet, there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change to the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the consequent flooding. This is in part due to the highly variable nature of UK weather and climate.” This agrees with the latest IPCC Report that states: “Substantial uncertainty and thus low confidence remains in projecting changes in Northern Hemisphere storm tracks, especially for the North Atlantic basin.”

        This is the basis for Prof Collins’ comment and means that we are not sure, yet, how the features that bring storms across the Atlantic to the UK – the jet-stream and storm track – might be impacted by climate change. As the Met Office report highlights for this year’s extreme conditions, there are many competing factors – from changes in the winds of the upper atmosphere to disturbed weather over Indonesia.

        What the Met Office report – and indeed the IPCC – does say is that there is increasing evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense. It is clear that global warming has led to an increase in moisture in the atmosphere – with about four per cent more moisture over the oceans than in the 1970s – which means that when conditions are favourable to the formation of storms there is a greater risk of intense rainfall. This is where climate change has a role to play in this year’s flooding.

        With respect to changes in storminess, the good news is that recent advances in climate science are starting to pay dividends. Improved spatial resolution in models – that means that they can model weather and climate in more spatial detail – is allowing the models to represent some of the key factors that drive regional weather patterns. As the Met Office report states ‘With a credible modelling system in place it should now be possible to perform scientifically robust assessments of changes in storminess, the degree to which they are related to natural variability and the degree to which there is a contribution from human-induced climate change.’

  3. I don’t think you’re getting a skewed picture. The contrarians are out in force because they need to be. My own view is that there is now a certain desperation to maintain an untenable point of view. More than this, as far as the more broadly available media are concerned, the climate concerned are getting more air time (here).

    Nevertheless, I understand your concerns. Especially being where you are. Perhaps the best hope is what we are now seeing in the north spreading to the south. That is, where profits and/or position come under threat, the vested interests have a rapid change of view.

    Fingers crossed 🙂

    1. I have heard this expressed before – that contrarian voices are getting more desperate because people are starting to reject them – and I hope it’s true. The BBC has been giving quite a bit of air time recently to some high profile contrarians though like Lord Lawson. They place him next to a climate scientist and somehow expect viewers or listeners to accept this as balanced reporting.

  4. Admittedly Lawson is insane and therefore particularly dangerous. I am undecided as to whether such air time shows such people for what they or that they fool people with their rhetoric. I hope that eventually the penny must drop and the air time will serve that purpose. The effect of such people certainly remains a debating point in itself.

    I found this makes a good rebuttal. I though you might like it – http://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins/2014-02/open-letter-bbc-lord-lawsons-today-programme-appearance

    Keep plugging. No one is a drop in the ocean if they are part of a wave. 🙂

    1. That letter is terrific. Which reminds me, I still haven’t written my letter and I said I would.

  5. Graham,at 9:19 p.m.
    1.I remain of the view that the BBC report you linked was not a fair and accurate report of the Met Office Report. How could it be with the omission of the passage I quoted ?
    2 and 3. The Jet Stream /Polar vortex connection to Global Warming is dead in the water.To save me listing a string of statements and articles from both sides of the debate, See “Finally a Real Scientific Consensus -Everyone Agrees That The Displaced Polar Vortex wasn’t caused by Global Warming”-WUWT,Feb 21, 2014.
    Note the recent Letter to Science by the prominent mainstream climate scientists,Kevin Trenbarth et al.
    “…….the link between recent Arctic warming and increased Northern Hemisphere blocking is currently not supported by observations.”, Barnes’ study concludes etc.
    4.Julia Slingo is in difficulty over her “bold statement ” because of the extreme mutability of her views. On 13 March,2012 ,she told MPs that the low winter rainfall the country was then experiencing was caused by climate change. Then in April,2013 the Met was saying climate change “was loading the dice ” towards freezing DRIER weather,etc.
    Now global warming is leading us to wetter winters in UK etc. according to Slingo.

    1. Doug,

      You have made a number of assertions in this comment without providing any reputable sources to back up your claims. Note that WUWT is not a good source of scientific information. It is not a science blog by any means.

      The jet stream/polar vortex connection to global warming is not dead in the water. That it is currently being actively debated by scientists should give you confidence that they are not biased and pushing an agenda but searching for the truth.

      Here’s what Jennifer Frances has to say:

      What we *do* suggest is that the weakened poleward temperature gradient owing to the rapidly warming Arctic relative to mid-latitudes (Arctic amplification) should increase the north-south component of the upper-level flow, making highly wavy jet-stream patterns (like the one this winter) more likely. These patterns favor persistent weather patterns, not necessarily more record-breaking cold or warm temperature extremes. Again, the amazing persistence of this winter’s highly amplified pattern is an example of this behavior, but of course it can’t be blamed on any one factor. Even though the cold in the U.S. has not been unprecedented, the public perception is “extreme” because the cold in the central/eastern/southeastern U.S., drought in California, and the heat/heavy precipitation in Alaska has been so prolonged. This is exactly the type of “extreme” we refer to in our paper, not the record-breaking-temperature sort.

      Source: Global warming, winter weather and the Olympics – leading climate scientists weight in

  6. Rachel,
    Thanks for your link to the Met Office Press release.My only comment is to direct you to the 68 responses below it. The credibility of the Met seems to be running on empty with many UK residents.Incidentally I agree with the queries raised by Omnologos concerning the Press Release.
    Apropos this issue , Rupert Murdoch has tweeted his views on February 18.It will be recalled that in 2006, Rupert famously stated that although not certain about it, ” the planet deserves the benefit of the doubt”.
    In his recent tweet, he says, ” Wild winter in US, UK,etc,no respectable evidence any of this man made climate change in spite of blindly ignorant politicians.”

    1. the planet deserves the benefit of the doubt.

      Paraphrasing George Carlin, “It’s not the planet we’re worried about, it’s us who are f**cked”. 🙂

      1. Quite so.

        I would like like to add; f**cked is not just a consequence but also part of the cause. The psychology of some persons being a relevent risk factor which we must recognise and exclude. Roll on buddy 🙂

    2. Doug,

      I find it quite surprising that you comment on the credibility of the MetOffice and yet you provide as sources for your claims the Daily Mail and WUWT. I will no longer be accepting comments from you unless you provide more reputable sources and I include the MetOffice as a reputable source while the Daily Mail and WUWT are not.

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