Weather Around The World, 4/14: Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Drought, And The El Niño Connection

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Water temperatures in the eastern Pacific have increased significantly, a sign of a strengthening El Niño. Analysis courtesy of NOAA.

Water temperatures in the eastern Pacific have increased significantly, a sign of a strengthening El Niño. Analysis courtesy of NOAA.

El Niño is getting stronger; last week’s Severe Weather Outbreak Jon will be followed by flooding in the southern US this week. There could be a connection.

The Colorado State team issued its annual April forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season: weaker than normal. What’s to blame? El Niño.

A massive new desalination plant will open in the fall in San Diego. Could El Niño make it obsolete before it begins operating?

Let’s go Around The World.

El Niño Strengthens

On Aril 9, NOAA updated its El Niño forecast: The chance of El Niño continuing through the summer is now 70%, up from 50-60%. Decoded Science raised its outlook two weeks ago.

Water temperatures in the eastern Pacific, which had cooled in the previous month, have now turned sharply warmer. In addition, sub-surface heat has increased due to a Kelvin wave traveling along the equator. So far, the atmospheric responses to this El Niño (named El Niño Eggplant by Decoded Science) have been minimal, but NOAA now believes they will increase. As does Decoded Science.

The recent two years have been historically quiet with respect to El Niño-La Niña. If El Niño conditions persist through the summer, they could increase again in the fall, when El Niños normally enter their peak period of strength.

A strong El Niño has many implications, including increased rainfall in the southern tier of the United States, and warmer temperatures over most of the country. We may now be seeing a ramification of El Niño with flooding rains over the south this week after last week’s tornadoes in the midwest.

Colorado State’s Hurricane Forecasters Predict Low Hurricane Frequency

The Colorado State team of Dr. William Gray and Dr. Philip Klotzbach has issued its April hurricane forecast: A slow season. They base their forecast partly on the expected El Niño.

Though the team claims to have a good record, the facts are otherwise.

The April forecasts, by most standards, are not an improvement over the climatological averages. Though by some metrics the forecasts show some skill, they rank below every other established forecasting team by any reasonable measure.

There are three categories of tropical systems in which prognosticators enter their educated guesses: Named storms; hurricanes; major hurricanes. Gray and Klotzbach have trumpeted the alleged success of last year’s forecast. Let’s see how they did.

Their forecast of 8 named storms was very good compared to the normal average of 12. However, there were twice as many of both hurricanes and major hurricanes as they forecast. One out of three might be good for a baseball slugger, but it doesn’t impress Decoded Science as a very good batting average for hurricane prediction.

Still, this year’s forecast should not be dismissed as irrelevant. It may be more accurate than past ones if the El Niño strengthens.

NOAA's forecast for next winter (Dec-Feb)shows above normal temperatures in the US northeast. That would be welcome by residents who endured a very cold winter this year. Forecast courtesy of NOAA.

NOAA’s forecast for next winter (Dec-Feb) shows above normal temperatures in the US northeast. That would be welcome by residents who endured a very cold winter this year. Forecast courtesy of NOAA.

Longe-Range  Forecasts Now Influenced By El Niño

NOAA’s seasonal forecasts are now based in large part on the expected continuation of El Niño. More rainfall is forecast for California, though by no means enough to break the drought. Above normal temperatures are forecast for much of the United States, including beleaguered New England.

El Niño And The California Drought

There is no question that California is dry. A debate rages over what to do about it. A large quantity of water (over 100 quintillion gallons — that’s a one with 20 zeroes) lies just west of the state. While California has dozens of small desalination plants, it lags behind other parched places in utilizing a nearby source of water. Israel, for example, gets nearly half its water from desalination.

As a new plant prepares to open in San Diego, serious questions remain about its economic viability and its environmental impact. A large plant that opened in Santa Barbara 25 years ago is now in mothballs. That plant was constructed in response to a previous drought, and when the rains returned it became too expensive to operate.

So if El Niño produces the kind of change in the weather pattern that normally accompanies such an event, rain — cheap water — could return to California, making desalinated water — expensive water — an unnecessary and costly option.

In addition to the economic consequences of desalination, there are environmental problems: the salt filtered out has to be disposed of — until now it has been dumped back into the sea with environmental impacts; and the plants consume a lot of energy, with accompanying large greenhouse gas emissions.

The former problem is probably amenable to easy solution: Ship the salt to northern states that need it to treat snow-covered roads in the winter.

But the latter, with growing recognition of the serious impact of global warming, may not be so easy to solve, although it should be recognized that technologies evolve and improve.

El Niño And Global Warming

Sometimes bad is good. The last best chance for governments to take serious action on global warming will probably come in December at The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. A powerful El Niño, accompanied by a sharp spike in worldwide temperatures and some extreme weather events, could, just possibly, spur the inertia-inhibited political leaders to do something.

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