The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is on El Niño watch, releasing monthly updates that detail their understanding of trending weather data and making sense of it for the rest of us. The report they shared this week outlined a handful of revelations in just a few detailed paragraphs, like determining the likelihood of an El Niño event this year, when they expect it to start, and how long it may last.
The short version: NOAA now expects El Niñ0 to develop within the next 90 days (“during the May-July season”) and last into the winter. It could all kick off as early as this month with the potential for a “significant” El Niño on the horizon and at least a weak El Niño late in the year (November-January). They are projecting an 80 percent chance of at least a moderate El Niño and around 55 percent likelihood it will be a strong event. The chance none of this materializes at all is still between five and 10 percent, however, leaving the door open for a quiet remainder of the year. But with the odds in favor of something materializing within the next few months and even weeks, NOAA says there’s more than 90 percent likelihood El Niño persists into the Northern Hemisphere winter.
This is a significant change from their last update a month ago, which told us things would shape up by August.
“We’re due one,” NOAA’s Dr. Mike McPhaden said in April. “However, the magnitude of the predicted El Niños shows a very large spread, everything from blockbuster to wimp.”
How did they come to these predictions? Well, an El Niño is declared when sea-surface temperates in specific parts of the Pacific Ocean are at least .5 degrees Celsius higher than average for at least a month and can be expected to persist for several more months. Naturally, the atmosphere is impacted when this happens, creating the final piece of the puzzle for an El Niño. If those ocean temps are higher than normal without the expected impact on the atmosphere, there is no El Niño. The water has, in fact, been warm near this strip along the equator recently, meaning the first parts of the equation are currently at work. And several meteorologists have reportedly pointed out that the current sea-surface temperatures are trending warmer than the same periods in 1997 and 1982, which were both strong El Niño years.
Now we wait another month for NOAA’s next round of monthly updates. Then again, we could already be in full El Niño swing by that point.