El Nino? and Plastic, in the Ocean

May 7, 2012 3 Comments

Before getting into any other subjects, I should bring everyone up to date on the latest El Nino/La Nina trend, which is one of the  more important ocean/atmosphere circulations we monitor. The latest ENSO diagnostic discussion indicates that the La Nina from this past Winter has ended. The central Pacific ocean surface temperatures are now basically neutral and are expected to stay that way for the next couple of months. By this Fall the computer model forecasts indicate a trend toward a weak El Nino. This is important. Almost every time we have an El Nino in the tropical Pacific we have warmer than normal Winter conditions here in Wisconsin and lower than normal snowfall.

CPC Model Projection

The stronger the El Nino, the warmer our Winter could be. Right now it looks like a weak El Nino will form at best, but it is early in the year, so there could be some notable changes yet before Fall arrives.


And now a little follow-up on a subject that was much more prevalent last year but many people seem to have forgot about. As has been mentioned in many outlets outside of the mainstream media, the Fukushima nuclear disaster is not over and it is worse than thought. Spent fuel pools (as well as other parts of the reactor) are a grave danger to the U.S. according to at least one Senator who visited the site.


In another follow-up, I sometimes bring a bevy of news and research that shows things are not as bad as originally portrayed, either for the present or into the future. Last year I blogged about how the trash in the Pacific is not as bad as originally reported. Now this year we have a finding that declares the trash in the ocean could be significant, just not in the way we might have thought in the past. A oceanographer researching in the Pacific found a lot of small particles of plastic a bit below the surface. These types of particles would normally float on the surface and be visible but wave and wind action drives them a few feet below the surface. Past surveys of ocean garbage generally only skimmed the surface water. Smaller particles could more easily find their way into the food chain and cause some disruptions. What is not know is whether these particles are all over the ocean. Maybe they are only in certain areas near manufacturing centers or shipping lanes, such as southeast Asia.

Also, in the not-as-bad-as-originally-proclaimed theme, during the past couple decades the AGW discussion has been peppered with proclamations about “increased storminess”, “more hurricanes”, “more floods”, even more tornadoes. In the case of tornadoes, every time there is a big outbreak, someone usually speculates as to whether the seemingly increasing number of tornadoes is due to AGW. In another, maybe it is not as bad as originally portrayed, the case for tornadoes is not clear cut. There are many factors in the atmosphere that have to be “just right” and these factors might not all come together to produce more tornadoes in the future even if we end up with some theoretical ranges in warming from AGW.

Have a nice Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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  1. Jeff Boyne says:

    The Pacific Decadal Oscillation can have an impact on whether an El Nino produces a warm winter or not. When the PDO was negative from the late 1950 into the early 1970s, 80 percent of the El Ninos produced a cold winter. This was the same case with the 2008-09 El Nino. When the PDO is positive, 80 percent of the El Nino winters were warm. One difference that is noted is where the warm water is located across the equatorial Pacific which affects the forcing.

  2. jloew says:

    Thanks for the comment Jeff. I will have to look into the Negative PDO correlation a bit deeper. As for the 2008-2009 Winter, it was colder than normal in Wausau, but according to this chart: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ensostuff/ensoyears.shtml we had a weak La Nina. I remember contacting the CPC about this, because for some reason they didn’t color-code the 4-month weak La Nina in blue. In 2009-2010 (in Wausau) our D-J-F temps averaged above normal and we had the El Nino (again, according to the historical chart).

  3. Jeff Boyne says:

    Oops…I meant to say 2009-10 winter. Thanks so much for the catch. The reason why the 2008-09 winter is not color coded as a La Nina is that there was only 4 consecutive 3-month seasons. The definition for either a La Nina or El Nino episode is 5 consecutive 3-month seasons.

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