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Sunrise, Sunset / Sunrise, Sunset / Swiftly Flew 2015

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 1:45 AM GMT on January 01, 2016

Sunrise, Sunset / Sunrise, Sunset / Swiftly Flew 2015

Here’s an easy prediction for 2016. When we arrive at March 1, 2016, it will have been 31 years since there was a month when the global average surface temperature was below the 20th century average. That’s a slight modification from the first sentence of what was either the last of 2014’s blogs or the first of 2015’s blogs (link to deathless prose). I generally leave the reporting of the current events to Jeff and Bob or those who are more on top of things at the The Capital Weather Gang. Plus, I took myself out of the monthly reporting of hottest month ever late last year, because I thought the real news would be if we had a month below the 20th century average. It is tiresome, for me, to keep saying how hot it is, when it is expected to be hot. And then there was that whole Godzilla El Niño thing, which worried me because I was unable to quantify one monster relative to another – and now this claim that this El Niño is not Godzilla. It’s a miracle I have any readers left.

Also in last year’s denouement, I wrote that despite it being cold in my backyard, in the middle of January we are very likely to receive the confirmation from NOAA that the previous year was, globally, the warmest year recorded. Same is true this year. (Where I am, in Colorado, it has been pleasantly frigid. Gives me faith in physics.) But I learned a long time ago that whether it is hot or cold in Colorado doesn't capture a lot of climate attention, so we have to rely on pine beetles and forest fires.

So despite my obtuse approach to today’s weather, I have been intrigued by The Storm That Will Unfreeze the North Pole. It comes at a time when I am finishing a video for a new project, where we talk about how the role of weather is to balance heat imbalances; that is, to carry warm air to the poles and to carry cold air away from the poles. This storm is truly noteworthy. (Update from Angela Fritz)

Now, the storm and the floods in the U.S. south central and Brazil definitely have a large influence of El Niño. Not so true for the floods in northern England. It seems pretty obvious at this point, that there is also a large influence of climate change, especially the warm oceans, and the amount of water that gets into the air to be rained upon the land. As Jeff and Bob have pointed out, the floods in Missouri are stunning for wintertime floods – this is, really, just rain, and big floods are usually the accumulation of many other factors.

I am lazy here on my last blog of 2015, and want to return to El Niño and California Drought: Simplistically. I had this quote about the El Niño of 1997-98, which for the U.S according to Ross et al. (1998), “was marked by a record breaking El Niño event and unusual extremes in parts of the country. Overall, the winter (December 1997- February 1998) was the second warmest and seventh wettest since 1895. Severe weather events included flooding in the southeast, an ice storm in the northeast, flooding in California, and tornadoes in Florida. The winter was dominated by an El Niño-influenced weather pattern, with wetter than normal conditions across much of the southern third of the country and warmer than normal conditions across much of the northern two-thirds of the country.”

I expect that Ross’ paragraph can be, largely, reused, and that the records can be tied to warmer oceans, more moisture, and more energy. And, then, we will be able to re-use this figure from Just Temperature, and show the continued trend of successive El Niños being associated with global records. A warm New Years to all. (Don’t worry, I have at least one more Exxon blog left in me.)

Figure 1: Global temperature differences with El Niño (warm) and La Niña (cool) years marked. From National Climatic Data Center.


Thanks to Xandra for finding the update to the above figure. (We should probably go back and get the details on the first figure because it has some discernible differences. It was generated by WMO as well, as I recall.) And as expected, here it is:

Annual Global Temperature Anomalies 1950-2015 (for 2015, January to October)

Figure 2: Global annual average temperatures anomalies (relative to 1961-1990) based on an average of three global temperature data sets (HadCRUT., GISTEMP and NOAAGlobalTemp) from 1950 to 2015. The 2015 average is based on data from January to October. Bars are coloured according to whether the year was classified as an El Niño year (red), a La Niña year (blue) or an ENSO-neutral year (grey).Note uncertainty ranges are not shown, but are around 0.1°C.

Source: WMO, Press Release N° 13, 25 November 2015

I like this figure a lot because it separates out the largest source of global, internal variability and reveals trends in concert with the variability. It highlights the extraordinary scale of the 1997-98 El Niño. It will be interesting to see how this El Niño plays out through the Northern winter.

Climate Change

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.