“El Niño [is] the most influential climate pattern used in seasonal forecasting” – Ned Gardiner, NOAA
As a weak La Niña event is forecasted to last through this winter, it bears asking the question what sort of effect will a warming climate have on these ENSO (El Niño/La Niña) events?
Scientists from NOAA, NASA, and a variety of other climate research organizations began looking at possible correlations back in 2010 and their findings show that not only will El Niño events become more frequent but as surface temperatures rise globally– these events could become supercharged as well.
“A recent study found many climate models predict [El Niño] events will become much more frequent under projected global warming scenarios.” – NASA
A study completed in 2010 by Tong Lee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory indicates that not only have El Niños increased in frequency but “the intensity of El Niños in the central Pacific has nearly doubled.” Lee’s counterpart and NASA research scientist at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Michael McPhaden says such events could “throw a monkey wrench into long-range weather forecasting, which is largely based on our understanding of El Niños from the latter half of the 20th century.”
According to a paper published by Yale’s School Of Forestry and Environmental Studies, “most models predict the chances of routine El Niños turning into extreme events is growing.” In the paper, its author cites a research study completed by Wenju Cai of Australia’s national science agency. Cai’s concludes that while the “rhythm” of ENSO events is unlikely to alter greatly, the chances of ‘Super’ El Niño events will increase gradually as the global climate warms. Three such ‘Super’ El Niño events in the past 30 years (*82/82, 97/98, and 15/16) back up this conclusion.
As Super El Nino’s become more frequent, short-term weather patterns will likely become more volatile and less predictable. Extreme weather events such as long periods of drought followed by excessive precipitation will likely follow these strong ENSO events. Such volatility has the capacity to cause economic unrest worldwide, not to mention the global environmental impacts. Scientists already are pointing to the acidification of our oceans due to warming and rising sea’s are next on the docket.
La Niña Watch:
La Niña is underway, with a 65-75% chance that it will continue at least through the winter. Similar to last winter, the event is predicted to be relatively weak. During a weak event, the typical U.S. impacts associated with La Niña are still possible, but they become less likely.
Find out more here: How El Niño and La Niña affect the winter jet stream and U.S. climate