New Video: El Nino – What Are the Odds?

May 8, 2014

Hot topic of discussion this spring has been the signs of an emerging large El Nino event in the pacific, which may have big impacts globally in the coming year, and maybe longer. To find out more, I interviewed Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Dr. Josh Willis of NASA JPL.

Their opinion? It’s on its way, and it looks like a big one.  I’ll have more on this in coming days.

25 Responses to “New Video: El Nino – What Are the Odds?”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    “We MAY be in for a ride here”?

    Sure looks like it. Keep it coming.

  2. Unfortunately, there is so much we don’t know because of the lack of funding and the war on science. ENSO might be coming but its impacts can depend on a variety of “noise” ie
    “The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a pattern of Pacific climate variability similar to ENSO in character, but which varies over a much longer time scale. The PDO can remain in the same phase for 20 to 30 years, while ENSO cycles typically only last 6 to 18 months. The PDO, like ENSO, consists of a warm and cool phase which alters upper level atmospheric winds. Shifts in the PDO phase can have significant implications for global climate, affecting Pacific and Atlantic hurricane activity, droughts and flooding around the Pacific basin, the productivity of marine ecosystems, and global land temperature patterns. Experts also believe the PDO can intensify or diminish the impacts of ENSO according to its phase. If both ENSO and the PDO are in the same phase, it is believed that El Niño/La Nina impacts may be magnified. Conversely, if ENSO and the PDO are out of phase, it has been proposed that they may offset one another, preventing “true” ENSO impacts from occurring. ”
    I live in California, and hope for rain. Will be buying flood insurance in August.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Why are you waiting until August to buy flood insurance? Noise aside, all indications are that it’s coming, it’s going to be big, and it might even begin to arrive before August.

      • Expensive, lasts six months, have to pay all at once. Will closely watch weather. Live at 120 feet higher then Sacramento. Would take an ArKstorm of epic proportions to flood here. I do have earthquake insurance (cheap) even though I don’t live in an earthquake zone. Daughter worked 2 years in Christchurch, New Zealand for an insurance company. You never know. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    • The PDO has a very erratic component to it compared to ENSO.
      2009** -1.40 -1.55 -1.59 -1.65 -0.88 -0.31 -0.53 0.09 0.52 0.27 -0.40 0.08
      2010** 0.83 0.82 0.44 0.78 0.62 -0.22 -1.05 -1.27 -1.61 -1.06 -0.82 -1.21
      2011** -0.92 -0.83 -0.69 -0.42 -0.37 -0.69 -1.86 -1.74 -1.79 -1.34 -2.33 -1.79
      2012** -1.38 -0.85 -1.05 -0.27 -1.26 -0.87 -1.52 -1.93 -2.21 -0.79 -0.59 -0.48
      2013** -0.13 -0.43 -0.63 -0.16 0.08 -0.78 -1.25 -1.04 -0.48 -0.87 -0.11 -0.41
      2014** 0.30 0.38 0.97
      Note that the changing values and note that the current numbers are getting positively larger.


      • Only one example of “noise”. We know so little. Most Americans and the well to do nations love money and material possessions, not knowledge.

      • redskylite Says:

        A. climate change passenger: Thanks for sharing that PDO index information (which is new to me), as I understand it, the info is derived from average sea surface temperatures, I remember J.Curry saying we were in a cold phase presently (and she thought this might affect surface temps for 2014 even if we have an El Nino), but if I’m reading this correctly 2014 has started with quite strong positive values.

        I can see your point on the erratic behaviour:

        Am I reading it correctly ie. minus values = cold phase
        Positive values = warm phase

        or I am oversimplifying and need to take a course on PDO’s ?

        I do like to understand the arguments for myself.

        El Nino or bust:
        Guest commentary from Michelle L’Heureux, NOAA Climate Prediction Center

        • A lot is still not known.

          • redskylite Says:

            Agreed, I found this of interest from the CALFED Bay-Delta Program:

            “This second form of El Niño, known as El Niño Modoki (from the Japanese meaning similar, but different), forms in the Central Pacific rather than the Eastern Pacific as the typical El Niño events that reach the South American coast. Warming in the Central Pacific is associated with a higher storm frequency and a greater potential for hurricanes making landfall along the Gulf Coast and the coast of Central America. The traditional El Niño tends to reduce the number of Atlantic hurricanes, but El Niño Modoki can lead to more hurricanes than usual in the Atlantic Ocean.

            “It’s not clear why this new form is occurring more commonly,” said Peter J. Webster, a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a co-author of a report on the finding that was published in the July 3, 2009 edition of the journal Science.

            “This could be part of a natural oscillation of El Niño,” Webster said. “Or it could be El Niño’s response to a warming atmosphere. There are hints that the trade winds of the Pacific have become weaker with time and this may lead to the warming occurring further to the west. We need more data before we know for sure.”

            Whether you call it El Niño, El Wimpo, or El Niño Modoki, it’s here and could have an impact on California’s weather.”

            good luck on the insurance timing:


    • If you’re wishing to get flood insurance you need to have it for 6 months before the coverage kicks in.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      more soon on PDO from the interviews.

      • Great be sure the cover the Theory and Mechanisms which are two schools: PDO may not be a dynamical mode (Wu et al., 2003); PDO is essentially a reddened response to both atmospheric noise and ENSO, resulting in more decadal variability than either one of the two forcings produce on their own.

        You may which to a Joe B for some comedic coverage

      • Please address all the stuff we still haven’t discovered yet. (Sarcasm)

      • redskylite Says:

        Look forward to that, I’ve been looking at some of the youtube lectures on the PDO and it seems, nobody is absolutely sure we are in a cold PDO phase at the moment, and as Prof Roy Spencer has a lot to say on it, my spider senses are now tingling.

  3. […] Hot topic of discussion this spring has been the signs of an emerging large El Nino event in the pacific, which may have big impacts globally in the coming year, and maybe longer. To find out more,…  […]

  4. rayduray Says:

    OK, so in the real world, what does a big El Nino year mean for the U.S. Southwest? Generally, very good news, water-wise. Not counting the landslides and flash floods, accidental deaths, bridge washouts and other headline grabbers.

    Here’s where to look at the historical record:

    Start here:

    The important measure is “Inflow(CFS)”, essentially the inflow to Lake Powell and the lower Colorado River, currently serving about 30 million people. The Lake is low, by the way and could use some inflow.

    Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Search DB for more Water Data Facts” | Select “Averages By Year” from the drop-down menu. You should see this:

    And a listing of average yearly river data, including Inflow in CFS. This is the comparable we’re interested in.

    In 2013, the Average Inflow in CFS was 7794.37 cfs
    In 2012, the Average Inflow in CFS was 7048.56 cfs

    Last big El Nino looked like this:

    In 1998, the Average Inflow in CFS was 18271.14 cfs
    In 1997, the Average Inflow in CFS was 23755.15 cfs

    But the really big flows were in the previous decade:

    In 1984 the Average Inflow in CFS was 30333.58 cfs
    In 1983 the Average Inflow in CFS was 28695.53 cfs

    So looking at these pairs as couplets, what we can see is that in 83-4 the inflow into Lake Powell was over 400% great than in the most recent two years (2012-3) on the Colorado. (the 97-8 inflow was 300% greater than the last two years.)

    Looked at this way, a major El Nino event seems to be something to look forward to rather than to dread. 🙂

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A big El Nino year is very good news for the Southwest? Ray can perhaps add “Collapse of the Glen Canyon Dam” to the other “headline grabbers”, along with all the other disasters that event would precipitate downstream.

      It’s actually good that Lake Powell is less than half full right now. It took ~17 years to fill after it was built (’63 to ’80), so we have a bit of a cushion if the El Nino does bring a lot of rain to the upper Colorado basin.

      The data Ray cites show that the Colorado’s flow has been decreasing over the long term. Before all the dams were built, the historic flow was 22,500 cfs, about what the last big El Nino brought. During the 1983-84 deluge, the inflow reached as high as 111,000 cfs. It flowed into a full Lake Powell, and they had to open all the gates to allow the excess water to escape. Much damage was done to the dam’s structures, and even some bedrock was eroded. There are worries that a repeat could destroy the dam, and those who want to tear it down often bring up 1983-84 in their arguments. Check out this link for a real life horror story. Can you imagine something as big as a dam shaking itself to pieces?

      “The rumblings were so notable that a worker in the employee dining room, located near the power plant, was reported to say that it “sounded like the barrages that he had experienced in Vietnam”. [

      Looked at this way, a major El Nino event seems to be something about which we perhaps should say “be careful what you wish for”.

      • rayduray Says:


        Re: Lake Powell —

        The lake is currently at about 40% of full. Should the same amount of snowpack build up next winter as happened in the winter of 82-3, the lake would not quite fill.

        So we can take the Alfred E. Newman approach here. “What, me worry?” There’s about a zero chance of any repeat of the somewhat worrying situation of 1983. You can read about the amelioration program in “The Emerald Mile”.

        It is incorrect to say that the dam was threatened with complete failure in 1983. The worst of the damage was to the spillway structures. This was caused by cavitation which had not been considered in the original design. Still the damage that did occur was downstream of the dam where the spillways transitioned from a near vertical to near horizontal bore. About 30 feet of bedrock was scoured out of the bottom of the spillway bore, but the dam was safe several hundred feet upstream.

        Today, a system introduces a pair of air bubble streams into each spillway. Surprisingly enough, this minor tweak is really all that is needed to prevent the cavitation that damaged the original spillway design.

        So, rest easy, the spirit of Edward Abbey is not about to descend on the water skiing maniacs of Northern Arizona. 🙂

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Lake Powell is not likely to EVER fill again, and yes, there is a lot of “slack” to take up any deluge from the 2014-2015 El Nino, but the “don’t worry, be happy” attitude that seems to inspire in Ray can’t minimize the “somewhat worrying” close call the Glen Canyon dam suffered back then.

          The amount of soft and unprotected sandstone that was torn loose in the tunnels and spillways is mindboggling, as is the thought of something as large as a dam vibrating and shaking, and we had better hope that the “fixes” are never tested as severely again. There was also concern that the dam would be overtopped, causing the powerhouse to be flooded and destroyed and eroding the rock at the ends of the dam. Complete failure of the dam was NOT an impossibility.

          PS Ray? Among your many talents, are you a computer engineer like Dave Burton? If so, I guess that would qualify you to comment authoritatively on sea level rise, dam design, and the erosion of sandstone by water.

  5. redskylite Says:

    England are taking it very seriously now it may affect the performance of their soccer team:

  6. […] putting together this month’s video on the impending El Nino, I interview Dr. Kevin Trenberth at […]

  7. […] 2014/05/08: PSinclair: New Video: El Nino – What Are the Odds? […]

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