2015 El Niño produces new climate record: 3 simultaneous Pacific category 4 hurricanes

Small Island States don’t (yet*) make global headlines, but this NASA picture shows a new Pacific climate record, which has a story for us all.

2015 El Niño fuelling Pacific hurricanes
Fortunately these three big storms did not make landfall, so what was potentially disastrous climate news – turned out to be little more than another statistic to add to the trend line.

On August 29 2015 NASA satellites shot the above picture of 3 tropical storms in the more or less the same path across the North Pacific that at one point all had category 4 hurricane strength at the same time. This simultaneous occurence of three major hurricanes across the same ocean basin has never been seen before. But although it dramatically influenced surface conditions across a big chunk of our globe, not many people live there, so no one really paid much attention.

Climate event shows 2015 El Niño now picking up fast

It’s not that clever though from world media to ignore the news: the hurricane record was fuelled by something that will definitely make global headlines later this season: the 2015 super El Niño.

Climatologists and meteorologists agree that the three consecutive Pacific hurricanes originated over the (nothern part) of the current tropical Pacific warm water anomaly. Over August this El Niño has already increased considerably in strength. But looking at the dynamical climate models this increase is set to continue over the months ahead, possibly doubling to record-strength by November, judging by NASA’s model.

El Niño's various sea level effects
[*) The island group in NASA’s hurricane picture is Hawaii. But also the Small Island States in the tropical and south Pacific may experience dramatic effects if the current El Niño increases in strength. This is not limited to raised temperatures and storm activity, but also an increased rise in (local) sea levels. El Niño shuts down the normal Pacific tropical trade winds. This leads to a notable lowering of sea levels along Australia’s eastern coast line and an increase in sea levels along the Pacific coasts of America. But over the areas with the positive temperature anomaly air pressure is generally low and precipitation (very) high. This produces a ‘low-salinity lens from convective rainfall’ (see yellow in image) that may actually lead to elevated sea levels across a large part of the tropical Pacific. Vulnerable (atol) island groups can experience increased risk of flooding and coastal (coral) erosion as a result of this extra sea level rise. Image: ‘TAR’ stands for Pacific atol group of Tarawa and ‘CAN’ for Caroline Islands/Atols – we presume. Long-term weather forecast for these atols: rain. Lots more.]

The BIG climate news: Surpassing global heat records of 2014, 2015 – and 2016(!)

The climatic effects of the 2015 El Niño will not be limited to the Pacific basin. During 2014 the world went from negative to positive ENSO state – and even that was sufficient to produce a new global heat record.

In 2015 that record will be broken again, and 2016 may again break that record – as 2016 will be strongly influenced by the (forecast) end-2015 Super El Niño – adding at least ~+0.2C to the 1998 Super El Niño – as that is the greenhouse-gas-induced trend over that period.

(Please remember where you heard it first.)

Political implications?

Meanwhile the UNFCCC climate negotiations will reach a climax at COP21, the 2-week climate conference in Paris, that will start on November 30. We can only hope the negotiators will pay some attention at the graphs, statistics and other climate news. For that we will definitely need the biggest planetary news of 2015 to reach headlines in mainstream news media, world wide. Work to be done there.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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