Surging Nino? What’s it Mean?

Here’s my attempt at a blog. Hopefully it doesn’t end up on failblog. I’m going to try and keep it updated as much as possible about different kinds of things – from weather to life to work (but mainly weather).

What better way to kick it off then a post about meteorology! When most people think about El Nino they think about a mild winter in Connecticut and strong storms pounding California (remember the video of houses falling into the Pacific about 10 years ago). That perception is only partially true.
El Nino is an area of warm water near the Equator generally between the International Dateline and South America. Here’s an animation that stretches over a year. Watch the water near the Equator and notice how the colors go from blue (below normal water temperatures – La Nino) to red (above normal temperatures – El Nino). The reds are getting more and more prominent and El Nino is now solidly “moderate”.
El Nino media hype reached a peak in ’97-’98 when we saw one of the strongest El Ninos ever recorded. It was so strong it flooded almost all of North America with mild Pacific air and absolutely pounded California with a never ending parade of storms. That Nino wasn’t typical. Most El Ninos are actually cold and snowy here in southern New England but the strongest of Ninos tend to be mild. The big question now is where does this Nino go?
A bunch of moored buoys in the Pacific measure water
temperatures at the surface and below the surface allowing us to get a look at the structure of a Nino or Nina. Specifically, we can look at daily measured temperature anomalies across the pacific. 180 is the international Dateline and 100 degrees is near the coast of South America. The red shading shows temperatures that are above normal… in some cases nearly 10 degrees above normal about 100 meters below the surface! That’s a massive warm bubble of water that eventually will probably warm the surface some. So for now it looks like this El Nino is still going to intensify (especially in the eastern Pacific) as opposed to the central Pacific. Computer models also show an intensifying Nino through the next few weeks or month and I see no reason to disagree based on the impressive subsurface warmth (that’s heading east toward South America)
The strength of El Nino is key for our winter. A strong El Nino (which almost always spikes in the east Pacific) really argues for a warmer than normal winter. A moderate, and especially a weak, El Nino would keep us colder than normal particularly the second half of the winter. You can see this by taking a look at 2 different Ninos I posted. 2002-2003 was a weak/moderate Nino and a very cold and snowy one in the eastern US. 1997-1998 was a very strong El Nino (actually record-breaking) and resulted in all out blow torch across the northern US and virtually no snow in southern New England. For winter lovers it was a disaster. Fail.
So where is this Nino going? I don’t think it’s done strengthening yet but I do think it will slow down. With the impressive warmth below the surface this thing ain’t done. It should peak in the next month or so and then slowly begin to weaken as waters cool in the Equatorial Pacific. What does it mean for our winter? Right now it’s strong enough that I am not comfortable in forecasting below normal temperatures but I do think it will be a snowy winter!
-Ryan
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