Every winter in North America, when there is a period of above seasonal temperatures, conversation turns to a familiar subject, the weather. It generally starts with comments like the warmer temperatures are ‘a terrible consequence of global warming’ and then ‘every year the global temperature gets warmer and warmer’. We hear these comments on the street, in the gym and even on news and weather broadcasts. These have become fashionable sound bites and conversation starters. And sadly, they have also become a rally cry to solicit support for political dogma.
In this blog post, I will explain why I believe these weather statements are false.
Over the past two years in North America our winters have been profoundly affected by the El Niño Southern Oscillation System, referred to as ENSO in climatic circles. The El Niño phenomenon is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central equatorial Pacific. It produces a very mild winter in North America and very wet conditions in South America. This warming also causes a shift in the atmospheric circulation with rainfall becoming reduced over Indonesia and Australia, while rainfall and tropical cyclone formation increases over the tropical Pacific Ocean.
El Niño is a cyclical, short lived event lasting from between 1 to 3 years. It is a coupled phenomenon whose subsequent counterpart is La Nina, resulting in cooler than average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean. La Nina immediately follows, and has the opposite effect of El Niño: a colder winter in N America, drought in S America and heavy rains in Southeast Asia.
There have been at least 30 El Niño events since 1900 (Figure 1), with the 1982-83, 1997–98 and 2016-17 events among the strongest on record. Other El Niño events have been recorded in 1790–93, 1828, 1876–78, and 1891. It is also believed that El Niño affected the Inca Empire, who sacrificed humans in order to try to prevent the rains. Scientists have also found that chemical signatures in 13,000 year old coral samples indicate warmer sea surface temperatures and increased rainfall caused by El Niño. In other words, we have evidence of El Niño going back tens of thousands of years. This not a man-made phenomenon.
In the last 30 years, the eastern hemisphere has been significantly effected by two El Niño events, in 1998 and in 2016. Both were exceptionally strong and both winters in North America were extremely mild.
Many attributed the effects of these two Los Niños to global warming. However, there are fundamental differences between the El Niño and Global Warming: the former is a short duration event, coupled by a subsequent cooling event (i.e. La Niña) and a return to seasonal temperature; Global Warming from an activist perspective, is the continued warming of the planet.
In order to establish a global warming trend, one needs to look beyond cyclical weather patterns and see what’s happening between El Niño events.
First, let’s look at the temperature data measured from satellites. This is considered more reliable than land based temperature data, but unfortunately we only have 40 years of it. However, it does allow us to examine in detail, with data confidence, a critical period from 1998-present.
Since 1979, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been recording global temperature from satellites and this is presented in Figure 2.
If you look closely at the last 20 years, from the large El Niño of 1998 to the very large 2016 El Niño event, the global temperatures have been essentially flat. Note how this differs to the rate of warming between 1979 and 1998. A change in warming rate has occurred. Continue reading “El Niño and Climate Change- Do Not Confuse the Two”