La Nina, El Nino, or Neither?

July 8, 2011 0 Comments

It is that time of the month for the latest ENSO (El Nino/La Nina) diagnostic discussion. It was released by the Climate Prediction Center yesterday. While El Nino and La Nina do not usually have much of an effect on our Summer-time weather, it is useful to watch how things are changing because these ocean phenomena do affect our cold season weather to a significant degree.


As expected, surface temperatures in the central Pacific remained neutral during the month of June. Curiously, the weather over the central Pacific still “acted” as if La Nina was still occurring (just like this past winter). The weather in the US also continued to “look” like La Nina was still occurring with cooler and wet conditions in the northern mountain states and drought persisting in the deep south, Texas, and New Mexico (see yesterday’s blog entry).


So is La Nina going to return? The experts at the CPC think it might but the “official” forecast is for neutral conditions to persist into the Fall and Winter. A couple of things that hint toward another La Nina (and perhaps another long, snowy, and cold Winter in Northcentral Wisconsin) are the upper ocean heat content and the computer model forecasts. The graph you see with the orange and blue is the heat content of the upper ocean and it became a little warmer than normal a couple months ago. Just last month, it started to decline a little. This could presage another La Nina, but we will have to see a continued trend for a couple of months before this would constitute a clear signal. The computer model average is neutral for the next few months but a few more of the models have started to predict slightly cooler oceans temps than the last couple runs.


I am kind-of hoping that La Nina stays away. Last winter seemed to last a little too long. Other folks who are more than “kind-of” hoping that La Nina stays away are folks down in Texas. Another La Nina ocean pattern could mean the current exceptional drought turns into an all-time record-breaking drought.


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Now a follow up on a side-story to the Japanese earthquake and that is the fact that many countries are now starting to question the use of fission nuclear power for future energy news (most notably – Germany). Germany wants to phase out nuclear power and replace it with “clean” alternatives but it looks more and more like they will have to up their usage of fossil fuels in order to fill the gap left by the retiring of nuclear power plants. Germany’s predicament (trying to be green but finding tough sledding) is typical of such efforts around the world. The basic fact (in energy and life) is that in the present day there is nothing even remotely close to a “free lunch”. Here is a good article about the challenges of implementing various types of green energy solutions. A warning, it is written from a political viewpoint, but it does highlight many challenges we face. Wind power is the “greenest” solution we have so far but it is probably not scalable to the level we would need to remain prosperous. I still have high hopes for solar power. I think solar has a lot of room for improvement.


Some recent news that give hope for a jump in solar power adoption and usage are:


The Dutch are investing millions of dollars in nanotechnology research with hopes of raising the efficiency of solar photovoltaics up to 65%. That seems like an awfully audacious goal, considering that the record efficiency up until this point has been around 42%.


Speaking of records, one was recently broken with a special type of solar cell manufacturing technique. Previous cells of this type had efficiencies of 18%. The new method (that can use the same manufacturing equipment) can produce cells with an efficiency of 19.4%!


In some very initial and theoretical work, researchers at Stanford have developed materials that can better absorb red and near infrared wavelengths of light. Absorbing more wavelengths of light is a sure way to make solar power more efficient and useful.


Have a good weekend! Meteorologist Justin Loew

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