Extreme Drought to Extreme Flood: Weather Whiplash Hits the Midwest

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:42 PM GMT on April 19, 2013

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It seems like just a few months ago barges were scraping bottom on the Mississippi River, and the Army Corps of Engineers was blowing up rocks on the bottom of the river to allow shipping to continue. Wait, it was just a few months ago--less than four months ago! Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis bottomed out at -4.57' on January 1 of 2013, the 9th lowest water level since record keeping began in 1861, and just 1.6' above the all-time low-water record set in 1940 (after the great Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s.) But according to National Weather Service, the exceptional April rains and snows over the Upper Mississippi River watershed will drive the river by Tuesday to a height 45 feet higher than on January 1. The latest forecast calls for the river to hit 39.4' on Tuesday, which would be the 8th greatest flood in history at St. Louis, where flood records date back to 1861. Damaging major flooding is expected along a 250-mile stretch of the Mississippi from Quincy, Illinois to Thebes, Illinois next week. At the Alton, Illinois gauge, upstream from St.Louis, a flood height of 34' is expected on Tuesday. This would be the 6th highest flood in Alton since 1844, and damages to commercial property in the town of Alton occur at this water level. In addition, record flooding is expected on at least five rivers in Illinois and Michigan over the next few days. A crest 1.5' above the all-time record has already occurred on the Des Plaines River in Chicago. This river has invasive Asian Carp that could make their way into Lake Michigan if a 13-mile barrier along the river fails during an extreme flood. Fortunately, NPR in Michigan is reporting today that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews stationed along the 13-mile Asian carp barrier have seen no evidence of the fish breaching the structure, and it would have taken a flood much larger than today's record flood to breach the structure. A crest on the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Michigan nearly 4' above the previous record (period of record: at least 113 years) is expected this weekend. At this flood level, major flooding of residential areas is expected, though the flood wall protecting downtown Grand Rapids will keep the commercial center of the city from flooding.


Figure 1. The rains that fell in a 24-hour period ending at 7 am EDT Thursday, April 18, 2013 over Northern Illinois were the type of rains one would expect see fall only once every 40 years (yellow colors), according to METSTAT, Inc. (http://www.metstat.com.) METSTAT computed the recurrence interval statistics based on gauge-adjusted radar precipitation and frequency estimates from NOAA Atlas 14 Volume 2, published in 2004 (http://dipper.nws.noaa.gov/hdsc/pfds/.) METSTAT does not supply their precipitation recurrence interval forecasts or premium analysis products for free, but anyone can monitor the real-time analysis (observed) at: http://metstat.com/solutions/extreme-precipitation-index-analysis/

Damages from the April 2013 Midwest U.S. flood in Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri are likely to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of the impacts at the flood levels predicted include:

St. Louis, MO:
Major flooding begins. At this level the Choteau Island Levee, protecting 2400 acres, is overtopped. Also, Lemay Park just south of Lemay Ferry Road will begin flood

Cape Girardeau, MO:
Many homes in the Cape Girardeau area are affected and evacuations may be required. Over 100,000 acres is flooded. Numerous roads are closed.

Hannibal, MO:
The Sny Island and South Quincy levees are overtopped between River Mile 315.4 and 264.3, flooding 110,000 acres. The South River levee is overtopped between River Mile 320.5 and 312.1, flooding 10,000 acres.

Quincy, IL:
Missouri Highway 168 east of Palmyra near the BASF plant closes; Quincy Waterworks inundated.

Note that sandbagging efforts may be able to prevent some of these flooding impacts from occurring. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt discusses the latest rainfall and flooding records from this week's epic storm in his latest post. He plans on an update Friday afternoon.


Figure 2. Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis are predicted to crest at 39.5', near major flood stage, on Tuesday. This would be the 8th greatest flood in history at St. Louis. Records at the St. Louis gauge to back to 1861. Image credit: National Weather Service.


Figure 3. Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis bottomed out at -4.57' on 01/01/2013, the 9th lowest water level since record keeping began in 1861, and just 1.6' above the all-time low-water record set in 1940, after the great Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s. Image credit: National Weather Service.

Flood-Drought-Flood Weather Whiplash
Residents along the Mississippi River have experienced a severe case of flood-drought-flood weather whiplash over the past two years. The Mississippi reached its highest level on record at New Madrid, Missouri on May 6, 2011, when the river crested at 48.35'. Flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that year cost an estimated $5 billion. The next year, after the great drought of 2012, the river had fallen by over 53' to an all time record low of -5.32' on August 30, 2012. Damage from the great drought is conservatively estimated at $35 billion. Next Tuesday, the river is expected to be at flood stage again in New Madrid, 40' higher than the August 2012 record low. Now, that is some serious weather whiplash. I'm often asked about the seemingly contradictory predictions from climate models that the world will see both worse floods and worse droughts due to global warming. Well, we have seen a classic example in the Midwest U.S. over the past two years of just how this kind of weather whiplash is possible. A warmer atmosphere is capable of bringing heavier downpours, since warmer air can hold more water vapor. We saw an example of this on Thursday morning, when an upper air balloon sounding over Lincoln, Illinois revealed near-record amounts of moisture for this time of year. The precipitable water--how much rain could fall if one condensed all the water vapor in a column above the ground into rain--was 1.62", just barely short of the Illinois April record for precipitable water of 1.64" set on April 20, 2000 (upper air records go back to 1948.) Thursday's powerful low pressure system was able to lift that copious moisture, cool it, and condense it into record rains. So how can you have worse droughts with more moisture in the air? Well, you still need a low pressure system to come along and wring that moisture out of the air to get rain. When natural fluctuations in jet stream patterns take storms away from a region, creating a drought, the extra water vapor in the air won't do you any good. There will be no mechanism to lift the moisture, condense it, and generate drought-busting rains. The drought that ensues will be more intense, since temperatures will be hotter and the soil will dry out more.

The new normal in the coming decades is going to be more and more extreme flood-drought-flood cycles like we are seeing now in the Midwest, and this sort of weather whiplash is going to be an increasingly severe pain in the neck for society. We'd better prepare for it, by building a more flood-resistant infrastructure and developing more drought-resistant grains, for example. And if we continue to allow heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide continue to build up in the atmosphere at the current near-record pace, no amount of adaptation can prevent increasingly more violent cases of weather whiplash from being a serious threat to the global economy and the well-being of billions of people.


Video 1. One person was hospitalized after a sinkhole swallowed three cars in the South Deering neighborhood on the Southeast Side of Chicago on Thursday, April 18, 2013. Witnesses said the hole opened up around 5 a.m. at 9600 South Houston Avenue, quickly growing from about 20 feet to about 40 feet. First two cars slid in, then a third as the hole widened, witnesses said. A fourth vehicle was towed from the edge as it was about to fall inside. The sinkhole was due to heavy flooding that broke a water main built in 1915.

Related Science
A 2010 study by Duke University scientists suggests that global warming is the main cause of a significant intensification in the Bermuda High that in recent decades has more than doubled the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the Southeast United States. Thus, the Southeast U.S. may see greater than its share of "Weather Whiplash"--extreme droughts followed by extreme floods--in coming decades. Joe Romm at climateporgress.org has a post discussing the paper, with links to examples of how the Southeast U.S. has seen both extreme droughts and extreme floods since 2005.


Jeff Masters

Underpass flooding (aerojad)
Belmont St. at the Metra train station.
Underpass flooding

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937. VR46L
Quoting PedleyCA:


Yes, that was a clinic....


LOL ... Thanks... How is JJ doing ?


Front will be coming in overnight




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first one missing me..Tampa put those shields down lol..
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Looking for a launch of the Antares rocket in about 48 minutes. NASA TV will begin live coverage beginning at 4:30pm EDT.
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Pre-frontal showers over Kauai:

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Quoting VR46L:


..... I dont need to be told :(.. LOL :p But that new kid looks very Good ...




oh yeah North_Pacific_Overview






Yes, that was a clinic....
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Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32290
929. VR46L
Quoting PedleyCA:
Riverside, California (Airport)
Updated: 12:53 PM PDT on April 21, 2013
Clear
86 °F
Clear
Humidity: 16%

Dew Point: 35 °F
Wind: 7 mph from the NW
Pressure: 29.91 in (Falling)
Visibility: 10.0 miles
UV: 11 out of 16
Pollen: 6.50 out of 12
Pollen Forecast new!
Clouds:
Clear -
(Above Ground Level)
Elevation: 817 ft

83.1 here...
Rossi ran 6th.


..... I dont need to be told :(.. LOL :p But that new kid looks very Good ...




oh yeah North_Pacific_Overview




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yesss first roll of thunder ive heard here in a long time...
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some big storms inland............
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Riverside, California (Airport)
Updated: 12:53 PM PDT on April 21, 2013
Clear
86 °F
Clear
Humidity: 16%

Dew Point: 35 °F
Wind: 7 mph from the NW
Pressure: 29.91 in (Falling)
Visibility: 10.0 miles
UV: 11 out of 16
Pollen: 6.50 out of 12
Pollen Forecast new!
Clouds:
Clear -
(Above Ground Level)
Elevation: 817 ft

83.1 here...
Rossi ran 6th.
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Quoting VR46L:


Hope you get all the rain you desire !

North America-CONUS-East Gulf Of Mexico Goes IR
thanks we need this rain badly here..
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922. VR46L
Quoting LargoFl:
clouds getting darker, I think im gonna get some of this!!


Hope you get all the rain you desire !

North America-CONUS-East Gulf Of Mexico Goes IR
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12z CMC





12z GFS




12z Ukmet
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15704
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Quoting ChillinInTheKeys:


From my post #551 yesterday...

"I was sitting out back with my wife about an hour ago watching the T-storms build up to our North with a little lightning about 5 miles away. A storm started building directly overhead and suddenly a bright blue ball lightning came down the guy wire from the main transmission line on US-1 where they drop down low for the runway and went to the ground. About 30 seconds later we had a powerful bolt hit a couple of hundred yards to the West. Really really cool and I've never seen anything like that before. The only thing that would have made it better is if it were at night. With all that lightning, we didn't get any rain and we sure could use some. Maybe later. Then again, it's still the dry season here."

Not a dry thunderstorm, Dry for me. We got a few drops, but mother nature made up for it overnight.



Dang that's crazy stuff, its hard to to say if it was actually ball lightning if it traveled down a guy wire though. I was watching a line of severe thunderstorms coming across Tampa Bay from inside my car last July, I had my window down to take pictures, and suddenly a powerful lightning strike hit the top of a steel HV transmission line pylon and grounding out near the bottom because grass caught fire and smoldered near the base of the transmission line tower. However, almost instantaneously, a large and bright plasma pall shot rapidly across one of the ground wires that is positioned above the conductors, it than arced into one of the conductors and made for a loud bang with buzzing and a big smoke ring.

This happened only about 100 yards from me including the lightning strike, I had my window down and was leaning out with my camera, this all happened as described all within an extremely short time obviously. I was shaking scared after that, terrifying yet awesome experience at the same time!


I don't think what I experienced was ball lightning, its just weird things happen with lightning that are sometimes hard to understand scientifically.

Of course, ball lighting is too one of those strange phenomenon with lightning. I'm not saying you did or didn't actually see ball lightning, but that sounds crazy!

Also regarding the dry thunderstorm thing, yeah I was going to say, its not the desert southwest down there, there is plenty of moisture so the thunderstorm would have been putting out plenty of heavy rain somewhere, it just never hit you.
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AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN JUAN PR
236 PM AST SUN APR 21 2013

.SYNOPSIS...A MID TO UPPER LEVEL LOW JUST NORTH NORTHEAST OF PUERTO
RICO THIS AFTERNOON WILL CONTINUE TO MOVE NORTHEASTWARD WHILE
FILLING TONIGHT AND MONDAY. A CUTOFF LOW ACROSS THE CENTRAL ATLANTIC
WILL MOVE NORTHEASTWARD DURING THE NEXT FEW DAYS. SURFACE HIGH
ACROSS THE NORTH CENTRAL ATLANTIC IS EXPECTED TO MAINTAIN A MODERATE
TO FRESH TRADE WIND FLOW ACROSS THE LOCAL ISLANDS.

&&

.DISCUSSION...SATELLITE IMAGES THIS AFTERNOON DEPICTED ABUNDANT
CLOUDINESS ACROSS THE LESSER ANTILLES ASSOCIATED WITH A MID TO UPPER
LEVEL LOW JUST NORTHEAST OF PUERTO RICO. THE UPPER LOW IS EXPECTED
TO MOVE NORTHEASTWARD WHILE FILLING TONIGHT AND MONDAY. HOWEVER...
DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED THAT THE LOCAL REGION REMAINS WITH LIMITED
SHOWER ACTIVITY SO FAR THIS THIS AFTERNOON. FEW ISOLATED TO
SCATTERED SHOWERS WERE DETECTED LATE THIS MORNING ACROSS EASTERN
SECTIONS. ANOTHER SHOWER ACTIVITY STARTS TO DEVELOP ACROSS
SOUTHWESTERN PUERTO RICO BY MID AFTERNOON. AS THE UPPER LOW
CONTINUES TO MOVES NORTHEASTWARD...WEATHER CONDITIONS WILL BECOME
MORE STABLE ACROSS THE LOCAL ISLANDS...WITH ONLY THE TYPICAL SHOWERS
ACROSS EASTERN SECTIONS OF PUERTO RICO EACH NIGHT AND EARLY IN THE
MORNING WITH FEW AFTERNOON SHOWER AND THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY ACROSS
WESTERN SECTIONS OF PUERTO RICO EACH AFTERNOON. A MID TO UPPER LEVEL
TROUGH AND A LOW LEVEL REFLECTION WILL REACH THE REGION BY MID
WEEK...INDUCING AN INCREASE IN CLOUDINESS AND SHOWER ACTIVITY ACROSS
THE REGION.

&&

.AVIATION...NO CHANGES TO PREV FCST...MOSTLY VFR CONDS AT LOCAL
TAF SITES.

&&

.MARINE...MARINE CONDITIONS WILL CONTINUE TO IMPROVE OVERNIGHT THROUGHOUT
MONDAY...WITH SEAS SUBSIDING BELOW 7 FEET AND WINDS 21 KNOTS OR
LESS. BUOY DATA SUPPORT AFOREMENTIONED TREND.

&&

.PRELIMINARY POINT TEMPS/POPS...
SJU 73 85 72 85 / 20 20 30 30
STT 74 86 75 86 / 20 20 30 30
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clouds getting darker, I think im gonna get some of this!!
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XX/XX/XX
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ECMWF MODEL 5 DAYS


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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


I think the key is observations and the best we currently do is with Recon in a storm. Need development of geostationary microwave sensing.

I wish. Intensity forecasts, at least short term ones, would be so much easier.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32290


Deep moisture is beginning to surge from southwest to northeast, PW's between 1.75 and 2.00 inches will move across along with upper energy as added lift.
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Quoting Grothar:



Levi, would the first chart be an average of more than one el Nino area? Might that perhaps account for the large spread? (Although, I believe the May 1 report might be a little different.)


The first chart was for the Nino 3.4 region only. There are separate plots for the other nino regions.

I am interested to see where the ECMWF goes for its May forecast.
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


I think the key is observations and the best we currently do is with Recon in a storm. Need development of geostationary microwave sensing.


Agreed. Fine-scale observations of hurricanes' structure could make possible large advances in intensity prediction.
Member Since: August 9, 2011 Posts: 26 Comments: 8630
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


I think the key is observations and the best we currently do is with Recon in a storm. Need development of geostationary microwave sensing.


Yes. That would be huge.
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getting warm and real humid here now..........
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Possible blobbing occurring.


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Quoting BaltimoreBrian:



I think intensity forecasts will slowly get better as we observe hurricanes in more detail and our computer models increase in speed and power. But it will be a long process.


I think the key is observations and the best we currently do is with Recon in a storm. Need development of geostationary microwave sensing.
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Quoting Jedkins01:


What are you talking about? Dry thunderstorm and ball lightning?


From my post #551 yesterday...

"I was sitting out back with my wife about an hour ago watching the T-storms build up to our North with a little lightning about 5 miles away. A storm started building directly overhead and suddenly a bright blue ball lightning came down the guy wire from the main transmission line on US-1 where they drop down low for the runway and went to the ground. About 30 seconds later we had a powerful bolt hit a couple of hundred yards to the West. Really really cool and I've never seen anything like that before. The only thing that would have made it better is if it were at night. With all that lightning, we didn't get any rain and we sure could use some. Maybe later. Then again, it's still the dry season here."

Not a dry thunderstorm, Dry for me. We got a few drops, but mother nature made up for it overnight.
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902. VR46L
Maybe West Florida peninsula will get some Rain



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Quoting Levi32:


The ensemble mean shows a warm-biased neutral ENSO or very weak nino, not a strong El Nino. That said, the ensemble spread is extremely large, ranging anywhere from moderate La Nina to strong El Nino.






Levi, would the first chart be an average of more than one el Nino area? Might that perhaps account for the large spread? (Although, I believe the May 1 report might be a little different.)
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:
Can hurricane intensity forecasts ever be on target?

Excerpt:

A University of Miami associate professor of meteorology and oceanography said he doubts the center will ever be able to consistently be on target. After developing an animated hurricane, using real atmospheric information, he concluded the powerful systems are simply too big and their winds too chaotic.

"It's not for lack of trying or skill," said David Nolan, part of a federal team reviewing a 10-year plan to bolster forecast accuracy by 50 percent. "It's that we just can't do any better."

On the other hand, Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist of the online Weather Underground site, says intensity forecasts "can be improved significantly."



I think intensity forecasts will slowly get better as we observe hurricanes in more detail and our computer models increase in speed and power. But it will be a long process.
Member Since: August 9, 2011 Posts: 26 Comments: 8630
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Quoting Grothar:


Your'e Kookie. :)
his mother and sister lived on my block when i was a kid..have his autograph burried somewhere around here lol
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Can hurricane intensity forecasts ever be on target?

Excerpt:

A University of Miami associate professor of meteorology and oceanography said he doubts the center will ever be able to consistently be on target. After developing an animated hurricane, using real atmospheric information, he concluded the powerful systems are simply too big and their winds too chaotic.

"It's not for lack of trying or skill," said David Nolan, part of a federal team reviewing a 10-year plan to bolster forecast accuracy by 50 percent. "It's that we just can't do any better."

On the other hand, Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist of the online Weather Underground site, says intensity forecasts "can be improved significantly."
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Quoting indianrivguy:


77 Sunset Strip


Your'e Kookie. :)
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894. SLU
Quoting Levi32:
WMO GPC Predictions


Cheers. (Y)
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WMO GPC Predictions
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890. SLU
Quoting Levi32:


The ensemble mean shows a warm-biased neutral ENSO or very weak nino, not a strong El Nino. That said, the ensemble spread is extremely large, ranging anywhere from moderate La Nina to strong El Nino.





Hey Levi, do you have the link for the new CFS forecast?
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Quoting SLU:


Do you have the link for the original website?


I think our friend Levi has the link to that. He posted the graphic on his twitter.

Link
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SHORT TERM FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TAMPA BAY AREA - RUSKIN FL
301 PM EDT SUN APR 21 2013

FLZ039-042-043-048>052-055>057-060>062-065-GMZ830 -850-853-856-
212015-
LEVY-CITRUS-SUMTER-HERNANDO-PASCO-PINELLAS-HILLSB OROUGH-POLK-
MANATEE-HARDEE-HIGHLANDS-SARASOTA-DE SOTO-CHARLOTTE-LEE-
TAMPA BAY WATERS-TARPON SPRINGS TO SUWANNEE RIVER OUT 20 NM-
ENGLEWOOD TO TARPON SPRINGS OUT 20 NM-
BONITA BEACH TO ENGLEWOOD OUT 20 NM-
301 PM EDT SUN APR 21 2013

.NOW...
SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS WERE DEVELOPING OVER POLK AND HIGHLANDS
COUNTY...WHILE OTHER STORMS NEAR NAPLES WILL MOVE NORTH INTO
BONITA SPRINGS. SHOWERS AND STORMS WILL DEVELOP AT ANY TIME AND SOME
THUNDERSTORMS MAY PRODUCE GUSTY WINDS AND SMALL HAIL.

$$

TD
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

The ECMWF forecast should be completely disregarded. Its under the impression that a strong El Nino will develop prior to the peak of the season, which appears to be extremely unlikely.


The ensemble mean shows a warm-biased neutral ENSO or very weak nino, not a strong El Nino. That said, the ensemble spread is extremely large, ranging anywhere from moderate La Nina to strong El Nino.



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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.