El Niño 2014: Early strength fades

NOAA El Niño Report/June 2014: El Niño 2014 strength fading compared to super El Niño of 1997-98

AUSTIN, June 12, 2014 — NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center released its monthly El Niño report for May on June 5. The consensus probability that there will be El Niño conditions for the Northern Hemisphere summer jumped to 70 percent, getting as high as 80 percent by late fall and winter.

Last March saw the highest subsurface ocean temperatures ever measured so early in an El Niño event. Speculation suggested this year’s event might be a repeat of the super El Niño of 1997-98. That one was the exclamation point at the end of the last massive global warming cycle that stopped 15 years ago.

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However, it’s beginning to look like El Niño 2014 won’t be as strong as previously feared.

NOAA El Niño Report/June 2014: Consensus El Niño forecast
NOAA El Niño Report/June 2014: Consensus El Niño forecast

Forecasting El Niño is a consensus probability calculated from the average of 22 dynamic and statistical El Niño climate models.

It is the same basic principle used by the IPCC in its climate model forecasts of global temperature rise. The IPCC has over 100 models. The difference, though, is that the IPCC has yet to achieve forecast reliability. The statistical “hiatus” from warming since 1998 has really hurt IPCC forecasting.

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Indications that this year’s El Niño will not be as strong as previously thought comes from new data measuring sea temperatures down to a depth of 300 meters. El Niño is defined as a temperature anomaly ≥ +0.5°C in specifically defined zones.

Climate.gov: Upper 300-meter equatorial Pacific ocean temperatures comparing 2014-15 with 1997-98
Climate.gov: Upper 300-meter equatorial Pacific ocean temperatures comparing 2014-15 with 1997-98

Subsurface sea temperatures down to 300 meters depth, that had set an all-time record high in March, have now fallen way back to half the pace of the 1997-1998 super El Niño.

The trend appears to be toward a weaker, more normal event for 2014-15.

The PDO Effect


University of Washington: The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) matches earth's temperature profile
University of Washington: The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) matches earth’s temperature profile

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a new Pacific ocean phenomena, discovered in 1997, that affects ocean temperatures which, in turn, affects climate change and El Niño. It’s a 20-30 year alternating pattern between warming and cooling. We are about half way through a cooling cycle right now.

Statistically, earth’s temperature stopped rising around 1998 when a down cycle in PDO began. PDO was in an up cycle during the great global warming years of the 1980s and 1990s. It was in a down cycle during the slight global cooling phase of the 1960s and 1970s.

Current speculation among scientists this month, based on the sudden drop in subsurface sea temperatures, is that PDO will mute the impact of El Niño this year. Many now believe it will not be a repeat of the super El Niño of 1997-98 that was at the end of the last up-cycle in PDO.

Basically, PDO this year is sucking the heat out of El Niño 2014.


New model forecasts out this month suggest that the consensus probability of El Niño this summer and winter is higher than ever, up to 80 percent by midwinter.

However, those hoping El Niño 2014 will kick-start another round of global warming may be greatly disappointed.

The difference between now and the overheated super El Niño of 1997-98 is we are in a down cycle in PDO that will decrease the warming effect and other related climate effects associated with this year’s event.

What started out as a very strong El Niño early on, is beginning to look more normal.

El Niños are not to be taken lightly, whether they are strong or weak. This year’s event can and will affect earth’s climate globally and preparations for it by those potentially affected should continue.

Both El Niño and PDO are completely natural phenomena affecting global warming that are unrelated to human emissions of greenhouse gases. Those who say otherwise are misinformed.

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  • Alan Poirier

    Hmm, looks like Trenberth was wrong. Go figure.

    • Steve Davidson

      What Trenberth has come around to and is right about is that global warming has been a stair-step process. He attributes it to PDO.

      Of course, it is probably speculative rubbish that PDO is about to flip back to a warm phase this year and jump global warming .2 or .3 degrees. That is probably wishful thinking on his part.

      • Alan Poirier

        PDO is still cool and will be for quite a few years. That’s what giving wimpy El Ninos and deeper La Ninas. Throw is a few stratospheric warming events and … brrr… it gets cold.

        • Steve Davidson

          I’m uncertain there is enough known about this newly discovered PDO phenomena to say its real. The record of PDO shown in the above graph is to short to be conclusive. I don’t believe a physical mechanism explaining it is known.

          However, if it follows the pattern shown above then we have about another decade or so of down side before it flips again.

          It’s the purist of speculation for Trenberth to suggest otherwise, especially suggesting a .3 degree temperature rise, if only in a videoed interview.

          • jch1952

            I do not know where you are getting that. The recent PDO cycle is already around 30 years old. They have been lasting, peak to peak, around 43 years. It has probably already bottomed out. It will take at least a decade for it to reach its next peak, so the next 10 to 15 years will include a great deal of positive PDO trend. Around 1940 it peaked and headed down fast – bottoming around 1952. Around 1970 it headed back up rapidly and peaked around 1983, and headed back down to where it is now. During much of the cooling period mid-century, global temperatures went up. If you’re a PDO believer, it might have been because the PDO index was trending up. If it is the trend direction of the PDO that matters, the cooling period, warming period stuff is nonsense. From 1983 until 2012 it trended downward – meaning progressively adding less upward push on the global temperature. That would be congruent with a significant anthropogenic forcing offsetting its downward trend, which is why the temperature trend versus the PDO trend is entirely different in this cycle versus the mid-century cycle.

          • Steve Davidson

            As indicated above, the PDO index graph came from the University of Washington.

            Where does your information come from? To me, a cursory search looks like there isn’t complete agreement on the PDO index calculation, so I’m not surprised you found something different from the UW results.

  • rerytdh

    beware! the new ice age is here.

    • Steve Davidson

      We still have the highest CO2 levels in over 800,000 years, global temperatures are right at their highest of the Holocene and the Arctic Ice Cap, though growing since 2012, is still only about 40% of its size in the late 1970s. That isn’t exactly being at the doorstep of an ice age, but a number of long-term indicators suggest some cooling may happen.

  • Captivation

    Since World Mean Temperatures are at their highest point, even a weak El Nino is simply going to release further heat to an already over heated system. Based on common sense, I’ll wager its going to be a disaster.

    • Steve Davidson

      You are correct that earth’s temperature is at a high point. Your conclusion of “a disaster” seems overly melodramatic, assuming this turns out to be normal El Niño, which happen every few years without catastrophic effects.

      The good news is that by this time next year we will know if your thinking is faulty or not.

      • Captivation

        Human Extinction is a bit more than melodrama, but I realize you are trying to integrate the public positions of scientists. Remember the IPCC rules demand complete unaminity among all authors, who are already under pressure to offer their most conservative views on research that is a decade of date. And after all that, governments edit those papers anyway to take out the most uncomfortable parts.

        I’m trying to stay closer to the private positions of scientists, which is that we face good odds of extinction by 2100. Not too cool to talk about, but that is what they are talking about.

        • Steve Davidson

          OK, I’ll bite. Which scientists say we “face good odds of extinction by 2100”?

    • Steve Davidson

      This month’s ENSO report (July) from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is even more pessimistic about a strong El Nino event than last month. My guess, it will hardly be noticed and the 15+ year “hiatus” from global warming will continue.

  • Organix

    Today’s democrats are a joke.

    • Steve Davidson

      Agreed there is far to much politics in science these days, but the 10s of billions being spent is no joke.

  • Rosco

    Why do all the alarmists want a re-start to global warming ??

    Shouldn’t they celebrate the fact that there has been no “dangerous global warming/climate change” since the 1997/98 El Nino released decades of accumulated energy from the Sun to the atmosphere and thus to space ?

    After all the alarmists insist we must stop global warming/climate change at all costs and here nature has done it for us – time will tell if it is temporary or not but my gut feeling is that the energy released from the oceans as a result of the 1997/98 El Nino has NOT been replenished during the couple of weaker solar cycles experienced since the solar maximums of the 20th century.

    It takes a long time to heat a planet and a long time to cool given an approximately constant continuous energy supply.

    Time will tell, but in the meantime shouldn’t we be optimistic rather than pessimistic ?

    After all the governments of about a third of the world’s population are not about to hamper the economic progression of their populations no matter what !

    Time will tell, but in the meantime shouldn’t we be optimistic rather than pessimistic ?

    • Steve Davidson

      “Why do all the alarmists want a re-start to global warming ??”
      Ans: They don’t want to be wrong. Careers and billions of dollars are at stake.

  • jch1952

    The PDO index has bee rising since 2012, and began aggressively rising this year. The 2013 GISS anomaly was 59C in a year that saw 12 reporting periods of negative ONI. 2003 also was 59C, and it included tail end of the 2002 El Nino and several positive ONI periods. If one wants to “restart” global warming, which is a ridiculous concept as the earth never stopped warming (just a little flimsy area about two meters above the surface and the SST component) what you want is a long weak El Nino. Surface temperatures will go way up: the equator will be glowing with sun heat which will be joined by the NW Pacific which is already glowing with sun heat. A new record warmest year will be set, the 4th since 1998, and the La Nina that follows will be anemic because not much heat will be lost from the oceans. A super EL Nino will drain heat from the oceans, and the subsequent La Nina would significantly suppress global temperature while the oceans load up on heat.

    • Steve Davidson

      Perhaps PDO is on the up side, but the fact remains that the strength of El Nino 2014 is fading for some reason. Subsurface temperatures that set a record in March have backed off to half 1997’s level, dropping drastically in the last two months, according NOAA’s latest ENSO report.

      A look at the trade winds show they haven’t reversed direction yet. That is another indicator of a weaker event.

      We will know soon enough if this event is normal or strong or weak.

      Btw, I was able to read your remark that went to never-never and was able to see your nice Woods for Trees graph. I even answer it, but my comment went off to never-never land, too.

      WFT is a very useful graphing tool for many climate databases. I’ve used it many times myself.

      • jch1952

        I don’t know relevant current conditions are. The ONI numbers so far this year are: -0.6, -0.6, -0.5, and -0.2. In 1997 those numbers were -0.5, -0.4, -0.1, and +0.2.

        We are still a long way from being in an El Nino in 2014. It’s possible there may not be an El Nino.

        Even if no El Nino develops, it’s still very possible for 2014 to rank as the hottest year in the instrument record.

        • Steve Davidson

          Good points. All are possible. NOAA is feeling confident El Nino will arrive in summer and its summer now, so we will see what next’s month’s ENSO report brings. I’ll write about it when it comes out early in July.

          It is entirely possible, and even likely, that 2014 will be the hottest year on record, especially if El Nino arrives. We are at or near the zenith of global temperatures since the start of the Holocene, so that is to be expected when records are measured in hundredths of a degree.