Buckle up. The world’s most influential natural weather feature is shifting gears. Strong summer heat may be on its way if NOAA is right.
An El Niño is building along the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean. And, there are above-normal chances it will be a strong El Niño, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this week. That could have dramatic impacts in the United States and around the globe later this year and into next year.
Climate scientists are especially concerned about the potential for hotter temperatures. Given things already are warmer than normal, they say a strong El Niño could send global average temperatures soaring to a record high.
El Niño is a natural climate pattern. Its counterpart, La Niña, ended over the winter after three years of disastrous weather.
Ocean temperatures are shockingly hot according to early season data: Scientists aren’t sure what happens next.
The most recent ocean temperature in the El Niño region, the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, was just .1 degrees Celsius away from the threshold needed to declare an El Niño, Nat Johnson, with NOAA’S Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, wrote in a blog post published Thursday.
However, while the ocean appears ready, Johnson said the tropical atmosphere remains in more neutral territory in the atmospheric indexes the scientists watch. But the signs are getting stronger, giving scientists growing confidence in an El Niño declaration by July, Johnson said. The chances for a strong El Niño are about 55%.
What is El Niño?
El Niño is a natural climate pattern where surface seawater temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean are warmer than average.
Its name means the Little Boy or Christ Child in Spanish. El Niño was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s, with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean around Christmas.
The entire natural climate cycle is officially known as El Niño – Southern Oscillation, called ENSO by scientists. The cycle swings between warmer and cooler seawater in a region along the equator in the tropical Pacific. La Niña is marked by cooler-than-average ocean water in the region.
Summer Heat: April set heat records worldwide
The ocean was already warm even as the El Niño began to brew. NOAA’s April summary reflects the warming temperatures:
Global average ocean temperatures set a record high for the month of April at 1.55 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average.
It was just .02 degrees shy of the record-warm ocean temperatures set in January 2016 during a strong El Niño.
The Southern Hemisphere experienced its warmest month on record.
The global average temperature was the fourth-warmest April in NOAA’s 174-year record, 1.8 degrees above the 20th-century average of 56.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
April was the 530th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average.
Why do we care about El Niño?
The ENSO cycle is the primary factor government scientists consider when announcing their winter weather forecast because it mainly impacts our weather in the colder months.
Recent information shows that in California, particularly, many old-growth tree species are not able to re-seed because they are unsuited to the increasingly hot summers.
Throughout the U.S., all gardeners know that the USDA growth ranges have been creeping north for decades letting northern gardeners grow new kinds of flowers and vegetables.
Now we are seeing the downside – forests are dying off, and a few really hot summers will only increase the danger.
NOTE, NOAA scientists say there is a 5-10% chance that this will not be a record setting summer in the northern hemisphere.