SALEM, Ore., Jan. 7, 2016 — On Monday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a dramatic new number that has triggered another round of alarming climate reports.
The number is called the Niño 3.4 index. It defines the strength of an El Niño, and NOAA publishes it monthly. It indicates how far above or below average the ocean surface temperature is in the equatorial Pacific Ocean—5oN-5oS, 120o-170oW—also called the “Niño 3.4 region.”
In December, the three-month averaged number had an unprecedented one-month jump from 2.0 to 2.3 degrees Celsius above average. That ties it with the super El Niño of 1997-1998 as the strongest on record. The 1997-1998 event, 18 years ago, caused well-documented weather-related death and destruction around the world.
The first line of strong storms of a standard El Niño pattern is already bearing down on California. It’s bringing much needed rain and snow pack, but also damaging flooding and mudslides.
This unusually strong El Niño will be blamed on human-caused global warming. It will rekindle the debate over natural climate variability vs. human CO2 emissions (or a combination of the two) as the main driver of climate change.
El Niño is firmly within natural variability.
The reason the index remains largely unknown today is that NOAA does not officially release it until the monthly ENSO report is published on the second Thursday of the month. Climate scientists eagerly await each monthly report. ENSO stands for ‘El Niño Southern Oscillation’.
However, NOAA also publishes a lengthy weekly ENSO status report each Monday. On the first Monday of the month the previous month’s important Niño 3.4 index is also updated, but not announced. When this dramatic new number is formally released next week, alarmist-driven climate change frenzy will again reach a fevered pitch.
Next month’s Niño 3.4 index could be even higher because of the momentum left from November and December. Should that happen, El Niño 2015-2016 will stand alone as the strongest on record.
El Niño, a naturally occurring phenomenon, has been known to South American fishermen for centuries. Indirect data indicate that it has affected earth’s weather for thousands of years. NOAA has accurately documented it for only the last 65 years. According to NOAA records, since 1950, 36 ENSO warming and cooling events have been recorded. Climate-warming El Niños account for 22 events; cooling La Niñas account for 14 events.
Some researchers suggest the overabundance of El Niños is driving global warming, not human-caused CO2 emissions. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), ENSO events are a major driver behind extreme weather and climate change.
El Niño is not caused by human emissions of CO2. It occurs naturally as the Coriolis effect of a spinning earth piles up solar-heated water at the equator. It raises levels one to two feet above normal in the Western Pacific near the Philippines.
Gravity periodically makes the warm water “fall” from that Western Pacific surge. This generates a series of massive, east-moving Kelvin waves that redistribute the sun-heated water all the way across the Pacific Ocean to South America. The heat is released into the atmosphere before it can be transferred to cold water deeper below the surface. This generates temporary global warming lasting about a year.
There have been two super El Niños in the last 18 years. That’s the same time frame when 25 percent of all human CO2 emissions were spewed into the atmosphere.
Which is the cause of the global warming effect? Is the overabundance of recent El Niño events warming the earth, or is a human-driven CO2 greenhouse-effect the cause? Or is it something else?
The answer isn’t clear. There are other recently discovered ocean phenomena affecting climate, too. The Pacific and Atlantic decadal oscillations and the “Blob” off the Canadian and Pacific Northwest coasts play pivotal roles in current climate conditions.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide has steadily increased in a slightly exponential curve for the last 70 years. Global warming has not. To some researchers, irregularities in global temperature patterns appear more closely related to ENSO warming/cooling events than to the smooth upward CO2 curve.
The science isn’t settled. The climate wars between alarmist and skeptical scientists will continue.