Big Question: This Year’s El Niño: How Big? How Destructive?


Experts say they see clear scientific indications of a coming El Niño in coming months, with the questions now focusing more on its size and potential damaging impacts rather than whether one is coming.

“We may be in for quite a ride here.”

It’s the closing statement from the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Josh Willis in this month’s “This is Not Cool” video on El Niño by independent videographer Peter Sinclair.

The five-minute video opens with a Weather Channel meteorologist defining just what an El Niño is — “a warming of the central and eastern Pacific equatorial waters, very difficult to predict, certainly as far as the strength is concerned.”

Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, in Boulder, Co., says “something is going on in the tropical Pacific Ocean right now that I don’t think we’ve seen since the 1997-98 event.”

“The big question that’s out there,” Trenberth, says, is not whether this year will be marked by an El Niño but rather “how large is it going to be … as big and as destructive” as the 1997-98 event?

One anticipated impact of a strong El Niño is a year or more of higher global mean temperatures. “We can say with great confidence this year is going to be very different from quite a number of years we have seen this century,” says Trenberth.

Just how different remains to be seen. So, as Willis advises … Buckle up for “quite a ride.”

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7 Responses to Big Question: This Year’s El Niño: How Big? How Destructive?

  1. RickA says:

    I find it amusing that so many “warmists” are hoping for a large el nino this year.

    It is a sign of how irritating it is that air temperatures have “paused”.

    It was also amusing to witness the coldest winter since the 1880′s (in the US midwest). From the hype, you would think that should not happen.

    My advice is wait and see if it happens, how big it is, and then we can see how “destructive” it was.

    What was destroyed in 1997-98?

    • Rick… I wouldn’t say anyone is “hoping” for an El Nino due to the sheer fact that it can come with a great deal of destruction. But I would say that we’ve been “expecting” this for a while. Nothing has slowed down in terms of the changes in radiative forcing from man-made greenhouse gases. We know that the planet is continuing to retain heat. It’s just a matter of time before that heat is transported from the oceans to the atmosphere.

      What was destroyed in 1997-98? Perhaps you should watch the video again.

      • RickA says:

        I watched it again. All I saw was it is more rainy in Calf. in Jan. Feb. and March. I would think Calf. would welcome this with relief this coming year.

        It also gets warmer.

        I get that this is a periodic event – but rainier than normal and warmer than normal doesn’t sound that destructive to me.

        Is La Nina destructive also?

        Is any excursion from “normal” destructive?

        I think of earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes as destructive – not la nina or el nino.

        But I acknowledge that everybody is entitled to their opinion.

  2. Rich Persoff says:

    Hello, RickA,
    According to the sites below, 1997 was a disastrously wet year in CA. Hardly amusing to those involved.
    Encouraging a do-nothing/don’t-worry attitude in the face of foreseeable natural disasters is not what I would want any friend of mine to do, even if he were convinced that preparations were futile or misplaced or cowardly.
    How about placing a bet with yourself of say, $ 10,000, that the coming winter will not cause severe dislocations. If you are right, say “I told you so!” and give yourself some nice treat, and if wrong, donate it all with a smile (The Lord loves a cheerful giver) to local disaster relief, and enjoy some humble pie.


    • RickA says:

      I never said el nino was amusing.

      I also never advised doing nothing.

      Nor did I imply that el nino would for sure not be coming.

      I simply advised waiting and seeing if el nino developed and assess the damage at that point.

      If you live in CA, I would advise getting your stuff off the floor of your basement, if you live in a flood prone area – just in case it does get wetter than average.

      But still – I wonder if you took a poll of the CA residents, would they be in favor of el nino or not?

      In a drought – higher than average rain might look pretty good.

      In a flood – drought might look pretty good.

      It is always raining more than average somewhere and it is always drier than average somewhere.

      But by all means prepare for those conditions (and others) – because at some point you can expect conditions in your area to depart from average.

  3. Bob Bingham says:

    Information from NOAA and commented on by top USA climate scientist Kiwi Kevin Trenberth, indicate that we have a larger than normal El Nino event forming and this is a much shortened version of the forecast.

  4. Bob Bingham says:

    From what we know of climate change and the introduction of an El Nino. California will go from drought to flood, for about a year, and then back to drought again. There is no escaping the remorseless increase in temperatures and spreading drought.

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