Researchers at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recently stated that El Niño conditions are currently present and there is “approximately a 95% chance” that they will continue and get stronger into the 2015-2016 winter (“ENSO: Recent Evolution, Current Status, and Predictions,” NOAA Climate Prediction Center, see link below). Many are saying that it could be one of the strongest occurrences of the atmospheric event in recorded history. What does this all mean for us Bruins in California and the rest of the world?
First, what is “El Niño?” According to NOAA, an El Niño is characterized by “unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific” and “increased rainfall across the southern tier of the US.” El Niño and its opposite event, La Niña (unusually cold ocean temperatures), alternate every few years to make up the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. El Niño can be classified as strong or weak, depending on measurements of sea surface temperatures and calculating the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI). Full-fledged El Niños have ONIs of 0.5°C and above for at least five consecutive overlapping three-month seasons. The last ONI value was 1.0°C from May-July 2015 and it is predicted to rise to more than 1.5°C by 2016. To put that in historical perspective, the highest ONI for one of the strongest El Niños ever recorded in 1997-1998 was 2.3°C!
So we can be sure to expect more rain and higher temperatures this winter; just how much rain and heat, however, is hard to say. With developments in computer technology in the past two decades, scientists have gotten much better at predicting the changing climate, but not every outcome can be anticipated. Until El Niño has come and gone, scientists, weather forecasters, and all of us can only guess what the outcomes of the event will be while we’re still left with burning questions: how much rainfall will occur? How much will it alleviate California’s drought conditions? How much destruction will it cause from massive flooding, in both California and other affected parts of the world, such as Peru and Southeast Asia?
Fortunately, at SEL, we have the resources to make your own predictions and opinions on the coming El Niño!
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center report (updated weekly)
El Niño in history: storming through the ages by Cesar Caviedes
El Niño and the southern oscillation: multiscale variability and global and regional impacts by Henry F. Diaz & Vera Markgraf
Learning to Predict Climate Variations Associated with El Niño and the Southern Oscillation: Accomplishments and Legacies of the TOGA Program. Free e-book via The National Academies Press.
*Please note that these resources are available to anyone using computers on the UCLA campus. Off-campus access is restricted to the UCLA community using either the Bruin Online Proxy Server or the UCLA VPN Client.
Written by Emily Meehan, SEL Reference Desk Assistant