Category: El Niño

Emerging La Niña likely to end streak of record-warm years

Pacific Ocean ENSO cycle a key player in global climate

La Niña
Cooler water welling up along the coast of South America and moving west suggests the start of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean.

By Bob Berwyn

The shift from a powerful El Niño to the cooler La Niña phase of Pacific Ocean temperatures will temporarily end the planet’s recent record streak of record-warm years, according to climate scientists who see the cyclical ocean changes as a key factor in the long-term global climate change equation.

Nearly all record-warm global years since 1950 (when accurate records start) have come during during El Niños, when the Pacific Ocean releases heat to the atmosphere and  intensifies global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution. The 2015-16 El Niño was one of the strongest on record, but it has now ended, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which says sea surface temperatures in the central and equatorial Pacific have cooled to average in the past few weeks. Continue reading “Emerging La Niña likely to end streak of record-warm years”

13 consecutive months of record-high temps for Earth

No relief from global warming streak

January to May global temperatures 2016
Well above average temperatures prevailed across most of the planet during the first five months of 2016.
March-May 2016 global temperatures
Spring temperatures have been soaring across the globe.

Staff Report

The planet’s global warming streak continued in May, which marked the 13th month in a row that the average temperature over land and sea surfaces reached a new monthly record. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it’s the longest such streak since record-keeping started in 1880.

The seasonal (March-May) and year-to-date (January-May) global temperatures were also the highest on record, NOAA said in its monthly state of the climate report. Continue reading “13 consecutive months of record-high temps for Earth”

Mega-scale El Niña pattern may have big climate impacts

New findings help sharpen global warming projections

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Can El Niño last for centuries?

Staff Report

A chemical analysis of cave formations in Indonesia has helped climate researchers identify a large-scale pattern of El Niño shifts in the Pacific Ocean that may play a role in how climate change plays out over the next few decades.

Measuring isotopes in the stalagmites, and comparing it with records from East Asia and the central-eastern equatorial Pacific, enabled the researchers to pinpoint century-scale patterns in Pacific rainfall and temperature, and link them with global climate changes in the past 2000 years. Continue reading “Mega-scale El Niña pattern may have big climate impacts”

Experts project below average Rocky Mountain wildfire season

Alaska, Southwest could see early season forest fires

spring wildfire outlook rocky mountains
Experts say they aren’t expecting a severe wildfire season in the Rocky Mountain region.
Summit County wildfire
An unusual high elevation early season wildfire burns near Keystone, Colorado in 2012. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

April precipitation may have helped dampen the potential for a severe wildfire season in parts of the Rocky Mountain region and in the adjacent Great Plains, according to a new outlook from the interagency Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

The projections is based on various seasonal indicators including precipitation, snowpack average, temperatures, wind, plant and soil moisture, and the timing of green-up. These indices support a below average to near average fire season in 2016.

“The timing of the recent precipitation events, primarily in April, has been critical to assure the availability of soil moisture and subsequent green-up, which diminishes the threat of an early onset of fire season,” said RMACC fire meteorologist Tim Mathewson. Continue reading “Experts project below average Rocky Mountain wildfire season”

Climate: Record-warm oceans generate yet another record-breaking tropical storm in the Indian Ocean

El Niño, climate change brewing up trouble

Cyclone Fantala
Cyclone Fantala is the strongest tropical storm on record in the Indian Ocean. Photo courtesy NASA.

Staff Report

A tropical storm spinning near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is yet another sign that global warming is driving the world’s climate into untested realms.

Cyclone Fantala is generating 170-mph winds, making it the strongest tropical storm on record for the region, according to NASA. Just a couple of months ago, Cyclone Winston hit Fiji as the strongest storm in the Southwest Pacific, and last October, Patricia became the most potent hurricane on record in the northeast Pacific, with winds up to 215 mph. Patricia also became the strongest-ever Pacific hurricane to make landfall. Continue reading “Climate: Record-warm oceans generate yet another record-breaking tropical storm in the Indian Ocean”

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”