The International Research Institute of Climate Sociology (IRI) based at Colombia University, NY released their latest El Nino update today and they are calling for a strong El Nino for winter 2015/16.
That IRI El Nino update states two important things:
- A weak to moderate El Nino is currently occurring will continue until July, 2015
- A moderate to strong El Nino will develop this summer and continue into 2016
We only have 5 strong El Ninos on record in Northern California and 4 out of 5 of them delivered above average precipitation in California. Once El Nino cools down to a moderate or weak El Nino, Northern California’s records show about as much below average precipitation as above average precipitation. NOAA even has a 4 minute video explaining to us that El Nino in California does not equal above average precipitation.
El Niño and La Niña events tend to develop April – June and they:
- Tend to reach their maximum strength during Dec-Feb
- Typically persist for 9-12 months, though occasionally persisting for up to 2 years
- Typically recur every 2 to 7 years
What Does El Nino Mean for the 2015/16 Californian Winter?
Looking at historical data, an El Nino in California is actually about 50-50. Around half of the recorded El Ninos resulted in above average precipitation in California and about half of the El Ninos resulted in below average precipitation. That said, the strong El Ninos of 1982/83 and 1997/98 were hugely above average winters for California.
Being realistic, we have to understand that a strong El Nino doesn’t mean that California is guaranteed to come rip roaring out of their current historic drought.
Let’s not forget that NOAA and more agencies forecasted a Strong El Nino for North America for this 2014/15 winter and El Nino didn’t even show up until March 2015 and it was a weak, not strong, El Nino. Furthermore, 2014/15 was one of the worst snow years on record in North America and was the worst snowfall year on record in California.
The one thing forecasters do have going for them is that this year, El Nino is already occurring.
“The difference is that this year an El Nino is already in place, with both ocean and atmosphere participating in the coupled climate phenomenon.” – Tony Barnston, IRI’s Chief Forecaster
Reality also tells us that it is simply way too early to put too much confidence in this forecast for a moderate to strong El Nino in the 2015/16. It’s only May and we’re talking about forecasting the weather 6 months from now in December/January…
“Predicting a strong El Nino is certainly exciting and favorable, however, I strongly believe it’s way too early to forecast such extreme weather.” – Roberta Gonzales, KPIX 5 meteorologist
Here is exactly what the IRI said about the current El Nino and its forecast:
note: the word “strong” is never used in any of the IRI’s El Nino update information today
“During late April through mid-May 2015 the SST was at a weak to moderate Niño level. The atmospheric variables also indicate an El Niño pattern, including weakened trade winds, low Southern Oscillation Index and excess rainfall in the central tropical Pacific. The consensus of ENSO prediction models indicate weak to moderate El Niño conditions during the May-July 2015 season in progress, likely strengthening during summer and lasting through 2015.” – IRI
IRI Infographs from today’s El Nino Update: