Category: El Niño

Climate: Snowpack dwindles across southern Colorado

‘Every El Niño is different’

western precipitation map 2016
Precipitation across the West has been patchy for the water year to-date.

Staff Report

March snowfall across the Colorado mountains helped maintain the statewide snowpack near average for the water year to-date, but the strong El Niño hasn’t played out as expected.

Instead of boosting moisture in the southwestern corner of Colorado, this year’s edition of the Pacific Ocean warm-water cycle sent the storm track surging into the Pacific Northwest and then down across Colorado’s northern mountains. Northeastern Colorado has been the wettest of all, with a wide section of the plains seeing up to double the average annual rainfall so far.

That’s bad news for the Southwest, where moisture has been sparse for the past several years. Western New Mexico, most of Arizona and the southern California deserts and coast have been especially dry since the start of the rainy season. Regionally, snowpack in the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell was 94 percent of average as of March 17, and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that the inflow to Lake Powell will be just 80 percent of average for the April to July period. Continue reading “Climate: Snowpack dwindles across southern Colorado”

Australian scientists document massive coral bleaching along the Great Barrier Reef

Global warming impacts on reefs unfolding as projected

Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching 2016
Aerial surveys by Australian researchers shows that at least 40 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected by bleaching. Photo courtesy ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies / Terry Hughes.

Staff Report

Global warming has been driving the worst and longest episode of coral reef bleaching on record, and the event is hitting the Great Barrier Reef especially hard. Australian scientists this week said their latest aerial surveys of more than 500 reefs show that the most pristine section of the Great Barrier Reef is currently experiencing the worst, mass bleaching event in its history, with the overwhelming majority of reefs being ranked in the most severe bleaching category.

Widespread coral reef bleaching started in 2014, even before El Niño kicked into high gear. As forecasts for this year’s El Niño became more certain, ocean scientists warned in advance that widespread bleaching, spurred by warm ocean temperatures, would occur. There’s plenty of research that enables scientists to project bleaching events, and last November, NOAA warned that reefs around the world would be affected this year. In February, NOAA announced that record and near-record ocean temperatures are prolonging the longest global coral die-off on record.

The latest data from the Australian researchers confirms all the projections and worst fears that global warming will likely decimate most coral reefs worldwide. That, in turn, could affect entire ocean ecosystems, since reefs are the nurseries of the seas.

“This has been the saddest research trip of my life,” said Prof. Terry Hughes, with Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Taskforce. “Almost without exception, every reef we flew across showed consistently high levels of bleaching, from the reef slope right up onto the top of the reef. We flew for 4,000 kilometers in the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef and saw only four reefs that had no bleaching. The severity is much greater than in earlier bleaching events in 2002 or 1998,” Hughes said. Continue reading “Australian scientists document massive coral bleaching along the Great Barrier Reef”

Climate: Warmest winter on record for U.S.

February snow cover below average across North America

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Nearly all of the lower 48 states reported above average temperatures in February 2016.
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Temperatures across most of the western U.S. were between 5 and 15 degrees above average during February and early March 2016.

Staff Report

Federal climate trackers say the past meteorological winter (Dec.-Feb) was the warmest on record for the contiguous 48 states, with Alaska recording its second-warmest winter, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

For the season, the average temperature across the lower 48 states was 36.8 degrees Fahrenheit, 4.6 degrees above the 20th century average and breaking the record (36.5 degrees Fahrenheit) set in the winter of 1999-2000. Read the full NOAA report here. Continue reading “Climate: Warmest winter on record for U.S.”

Climate: U.S. West very dry in February

Very dry across the West in February 2016.
Very dry across the West in February 2016.

Where’s El Niño?

Staff Report

El Niño didn’t exactly go gangbusters in southwest Colorado last month, where the key river basins received only about 35 percent of average February precipitation. Statewide mountain precipitation was only slightly better, at 56 percent of normal.

“February in the mountains of Colorado is typically a slightly drier month than compared to say, April. But a dry February like this could have big ramifications should April and May not pan out” said Brian Domonkos, Snow Survey Supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Continue reading “Climate: U.S. West very dry in February”

Is climate change causing sea lion food shortage?

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Sea lions may be facing a food shortage in Southern California coastal waters. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Study tracks prey base in Southern California coastal waters

Staff Report

Scientists say the large number of recent juvenile sea lion deaths is probably the result of a combination of factors, including a growing overall population and a decline in high calorie prey in important feeding grounds. The investigation started after large numbers of sea lion pups flooding into animal rescue centers in Southern California the last few years.

The new study took a close look at the abundance of four of the main prey species: sardine, anchovy, rockfish and market squid between 2004-2014. The finding show that both sardines and anchovies — both rich in fat that is vital to the growth of young sea lions — have declined since the mid-2000s in the areas around the Channel Islands where the females forage. That has forced the female sea lions to prey instead on market squid and rockfish, which contain far less fat and fewer calories. Continue reading “Is climate change causing sea lion food shortage?”

Travel: Death Valley sees wildflower ‘ super bloom’

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Desert gold wildflowers blooming along Badwater Road in Death Valley. Photo courtesy NPS.

El Niño rains bring desert to life

Staff Report

Seeds that have been dormant for years in Death Valley’s harsh desert environment have burst into bloom this year, bringing the best wildflower bloom in a decade, according to the National Park Service.

A series of unusual storms in October dropped locally heavy rainfall in several areas of the park. The most rain fell in places without official rain gauges, but the National Weather Service estimated that over 3 inches of rain fell in just 5 hours in one area of the park. This autumn soaking was followed by enough winter rain to cause the widespread wildflower bloom. Continue reading “Travel: Death Valley sees wildflower ‘ super bloom’”

El Niño may help spread dangerous diseases across oceans

Dangerous bacteria may ‘piggyback’ from Asia to Latin America

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A new study tracks potential public health impacts of El Niño.

Staff Report

Along with causing weather-related disasters like flooding or drought, El Niño may be a factor in spreading waterborne diseases like cholera thousands of miles across oceans, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

The findings by U.S. and UK researchers suggest that the arrival of new diseases in Latin America is linked with the spread of warmer El Niño waters. Examples include a 1990 cholera outbreak in Peru that killed 13,000 people, and two instances (1997 and 2010) when  new variants the bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus led to widespread human illness through contaminated shellfish. The study explored how those outbreaks concurred in both time and space with significant El Niño events. Continue reading “El Niño may help spread dangerous diseases across oceans”