Henry Fountain, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Less than a year after one of the strongest El Niños on record, forecasters see an increasing possibility that another will begin later this year.
There is no word yet on how strong a new El Niño might be, but even a mild one could affect weather patterns around the world. Among the potential effects are wetter conditions across the southern United States, including Southern California; a drier Midwest; and drought in parts of Africa, Asia and South America.
An El Niño can also influence global temperatures that are already rising because of greenhouse gas emissions. The strong El Niño of 2015-16 contributed to those years’ being the two warmest on record.
An El Niño occurs when warm water in the equatorial Pacific shifts, creating an immense warm zone in the central and eastern Pacific. This adds heat and moisture to the air, releasing energy that affects the high-altitude winds known as jet streams that circle the planet.
A small bunch of tiny red crustaceans that ought to be hanging out a thousand miles south of here came ashore on Salmon Creek Beach last week, the final remnants, it seems, of a wave of southern species brought north by unusually warm ocean conditions over the past few years.
The 18 pelagic red crabs now living at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab are the first ones reported this far north since 1985, when an isolated sighting was recorded in Fort Bragg, according to Eric Sanford, a UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology.
But those who follow life along the Pacific Coast may recall seeing images of the spidery, vermilion-colored creatures as they came ashore by the thousands last year in Monterey and a year prior, when beaches on both the Central Coast and in and around Orange County were covered in blankets of bright red crabs.
At the time, ocean waters were atypically high, a result initially of a phenomenon called “The Warm Blob” and then an ensuing El Niño ocean warming phase of record strength.
The surprise in finding the rare crabs off the Sonoma Coast at this point in time is that the ocean waters have cooled significantly over the past nine months or so, when the latest El Niño dissipated, Sanford said.
“They’re more often found in southern and central Baja, off of Mexico, and it’s very rare to see them even in the state of California,” Sanford said.
Seeing them now “is just another indicator of how strong that El Niño was,” he said.
Paul Rogers, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Don’t even think about putting that umbrella away.
El Niño conditions may have peaked in the Pacific Ocean, federal scientists said Thursday, but powerful weather systems — like a new series of storms on track to soak the greater Bay Area over the next five days — have only just begun and will likely continue at least through May.
“This is the time of year when El Niño acts the most reliably,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the climate prediction center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in College Park, Maryland. “So we would certainly expect the impacts to continue well through the rest of the winter and into the early part of the spring.”
There is a 96 percent chance that El Niño conditions will remain through March, scientists at NOAA and Columbia University reported Thursday, and a 62 percent probability they will continue through May.
Simply put, that means the likelihood of regular storms across California and heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada will continue to be greater this year than in regular years, offering hope that 2016 may finally be the year that the state’s four-year drought — now starting its fifth year — is broken.
But, experts caution, a lot more rain and snow is needed.
Read more at: El Niño not fizzling: More storms barreling toward California – San Jose Mercury News
Rong-Gong Lin II & Rosanna Xia, LOS ANGELES TIMES
A key location of the Pacific Ocean is now hotter than recorded in at least 25 years, surpassing the temperatures during the record 1997 El Niño.
Some scientists say their measurements show that this year’s El Niño could be among the most powerful on record — and even topple the 1997 event from its pedestal.
“This thing is still growing and it’s definitely warmer than it was in 1997,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. As far as the temperature readings go, “it’s now bypassed the previous champ of the modern satellite era — the 1997 El Niño has just been toppled by 2015.”
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at Stanford University, called the temperature reading significant. It is the highest such weekly temperature above the average in 25 years of modern record keeping in this key region of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru.
“This is a very impressive number,” Swain said, adding that data suggest that this El Niño is still warming up. “It does look like it’s possible that there’s still additional warming” to come.“
We’re definitely in the top tier of El Niño events,” Swain said.
Temperatures in this key area of the Pacific Ocean rose to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the week of Nov. 11. That exceeds the highest comparable reading for the most powerful El Niño on record, when temperatures rose 5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average the week of Thanksgiving in 1997.
Read more at: El Niño could be the most powerful on record, scientists say – LA Times
Though such algal blooms occur with some regularity, the size and density of the one this year has been considered especially alarming. It is believed linked to a band of unusually warm water stretching from Alaska to Mexico that has impacted coastal habitats in myriad ways.
With just a week to go before sport anglers can begin setting traps for Dungeness crab, a persistent bloom of toxic red algae off the Pacific Coast is threatening to disrupt the start of the catch and one of California’s most valuable fisheries.
State officials are awaiting test results they hope will come back by midweek before deciding if they will delay the Nov. 7 recreational start, as well as commercial seasons set to begin a week later, Fish and Wildlife personnel said.
Concern about a powerful neurotoxin called domoic acid produced by certain marine algae is driving the deliberations in California and in other regions, including Washington state, where much of the Dungeness crab fishery was closed through the summer because of high levels of domoic acid found in crustaceans there.
Read more at: California’s Dungeness crab season start in doubt due | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Battered by a historic drought that has fed raging wildfires, shrunk reservoirs and prompted water curtailments and conservation mandates, Californians are yearning for relief.
It can only come from the skies, and now, with winter on its way, the question on the minds of more than 38 million Golden State residents is: Can El Niño, the weather phenomenon named for the Christ child, deliver meteorological salvation across the land, from the arid south to the normally damp north?
For the North Bay, where that answer is still highly anticipated, a shortfall on the wet forecast may not portend an immediately deepening disaster, as it could for much of the rest of the state.
The region draws its water from the Russian River and local wells, independent from the Sierra Nevada snowpack — the lowest in recorded history last winter — and the state’s major reservoirs, now 70 percent to 90 percent empty.
The North Bay’s major reservoir, Lake Sonoma, with a two-to-three-year supply when full, remains at more than 70 percent of its capacity.
Just an average amount of rainfall over the next six months in Santa Rosa — about 36 inches — would go a long way toward topping off that supply and other local reservoirs, significantly easing drought in the region, if not ending it, said managers of the Sonoma County Water Agency, the primary source of water for 600,000 North Bay customers.
Read more at: El Niño forecast boosts hopes for wet season | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Commercial salmon fishing got off to a slow start in May due to windy weather and has stayed in a slump that local fishermen are blaming on unusually warm ocean water in one of the worst king salmon seasons in memory.
Some Bodega Bay-based anglers gave up rather than scramble for meager catches of underweight and undersized salmon, despite the relatively high dockside prices of $5 to $8 a pound.
Seafood distributors, meanwhile, are bringing in fresh, wild salmon from Fort Bragg and the Klamath River region in California to as far north as Alaska and Canada. “There’s always some fish around,” said Michael Lucas of North Coast Fisheries, a Santa Rosa wholesaler.
On Monday, local stores had salmon on ice for $16 to $20 a pound.But for local fishermen, the season is a bust, with the catch through August at 30 percent of last year’s harvest and equally shy of the forecast for the current season.
“It’s just not worth it,” said Chris Lawson, a 40-year fishing veteran, who said he quit going out for salmon in mid-July and is now awaiting the start of Dungeness crab season this fall.
Many cited the abnormally warm ocean water, running as high as 60 degrees this year compared with the low 50s that salmon prefer. Lawson called it “one of the worst seasons ever.”
John Largier, an oceanographer at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, said the ocean has run “anomalously warm” since the end of June, a trend he attributed not to the developing El Niño but to a “warm blob” of water that has persisted in the eastern Pacific Ocean for the last two to three years. It is likely related to the same atmospheric conditions that account for California’s four-year drought, Largier said.
The warm water likely diminished the food supply for salmon, a voracious predator that feeds on krill, sardines, squid, herring, rockfish — almost anything small enough to be ingested. Warm water cuts down the quantity and quality of the salmon food supply, resulting in a diet that Jennifer Simon, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist, described as “eating celery.”
Read more at: Meager salmon catch one of worst seasons for | The Press Democrat
Don’t count on El Niño to end California’s historic drought. That’s the warning from one of California’s top water officials.
Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said El Niño could soak Los Angeles and miss Northern California altogether.
“Don’t count on El Niño,” said Marcus. “If we get an El Niño, worry about flooding and property damage, loss of life and all that.”
Marcus worries Northern Californians will back off their record-setting conservation because they keep hearing El Niño is coming to the rescue.
“We’ll take the water if it comes,” said Marcus. “I just don’t want folks to think they don’t have to conserve because El Niño will save us, or to not understand that a strong El Niño has a downside.”
Marquez says conservation remains the key. Fortunately, Californians exceeded the state’s water-saving targets in June. Some customers cut their consumption by more than 40 percent. She predicts the July statistics will be even better “because people get it, and their water agencies are helping them.”
Still, Marquez is optimistic Californians will weather this drought whether El Niño delivers or not. People just need to keep conserving.
“This is not your garden variety drought — not your mother’s drought, not your grandmother’s drought,” warns Marcus. “This is not only the drought of the century, this could be the drought of many millennia.”
Source: Don’t Count On El Niño, Rain Could Miss Northern California Altogether
Bill Lindelof, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
While nobody is saying the four-year drought will soon be over, a federal report indicates that an El Niño weather pattern is gaining in strength – making the chances better that this winter will be a wet one.
“If you are a gambler, this is giving you some information in terms of what the seasonal rainfall might be,” said Tom Di Liberto, meteorologist for the federal Climate Prediction Center. “But with weather there is no guarantee. El Niño is only one of many things that could impact California’s rainy season.”
With all that said, Di Liberto said that the development of a strong El Niño is good news in terms of rainfall.A strong El Niño such as the one developing this year is usually associated with powerful winter storms, much like the very wet winter of 1997-98 when flooding and landslides occurred across broad stretches of Northern California.
In March, forecasters declared a weak El Niño had developed. On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced El Niño is strengthening.
Specifically, forecasters believe that there is a greater than 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue through next winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and around an 80 percent chance it will last into early spring 2016.
In its report, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center noted that sea surface temperatures are warming, a sign that the El Niño weather pattern is strengthening. While El Niño is no guarantee the four-year drought will be broken, robust El Niños often bring strong winter storms.
“Often, when we have a strong El Niño, you tend to see above-average precipitation across parts of California,” Di Liberto said. “That is good. It’s been very, very dry in California over the last four years. It’s important to monitor to see whether we continue to see a strengthening El Niño.”
El Niño is a large-scale ocean-atmosphere phenomenon linked to the warming of the sea surface in the central and east central equatorial Pacific Ocean. An El Niño is detected by satellites and buoys.
“We will have to see what happens as we go forward but what we see now in the Pacific Ocean and the way the (computer) models are predicting it, we are expecting a strong (El Niño) event as we get into the late fall and winter,” Di Liberto said.
Source: Strong El Nino weather pattern spurs hope of drenching California winter | The Sacramento Bee
Jason Samenow, THE WASHINGTON POST
El Nino is here, strengthening, and the buzz is growing that it could become a “big one” by the fall or winter. The global consequences of a powerhouse El Nino would be enormous. But just how likely is that? Both computer model and human forecasters suggest it’s a very real possibility, at least a 50-50 one. Computer models are particularly aggressive in their forecasts. Five ways a strong El Nino could affect our weather
The models forecasts compiled by the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society, based at Columbia University, on average predict a strong event by the fall.
The Australia Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) notes its computer model forecasts, on average, call for a very strong event.
Very strong or “super El Nino” events fall at the most intense end of the El Nino spectrum, which starts at weak and then steps up through moderate and strong levels. Only two events in modern records have ever achieved “very strong” intensity were the events in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998, which was the strongest on record. The 1997-1998 event is well-known for contributing to torrents of rain in California, leading to $550 million in damages.
(Note that El Nino events earn their strength designations according to how much warmer than normal ocean temperatures are in a section of the east central tropical Pacific, known as Nino region 3.4. A weak event has ocean temperatures 0.5-0.9 C warmer than average, a moderate event 1.0-1.4 C warmer than average, a strong event 1.5-1.9 C warmer than average and very strong more than 2 C above average.)
Some forecasters view the models with skepticism. Last year at this time, many models were predicting a weak to moderate El Nino event for the fall which failed to materialize.
But others feel the models are onto something, pointing out that this year, unlike last year, El Nino is already firmly established and on the cusp of moderate strength.
Read more at: Models and experts lean toward strong El Nino forecast for the fall – The Washington Post