Hello El Niño | Day 269

Not that we didn’t see it coming.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) declared today that El Niño has arrived. It’s a climate pattern in the Pacific region that’s been known for thousands of years. When warm ocean waters move towards the South American continent, Australia is left with dry, hot weather.

To monitor the status of El Niño, one needs to track several weather indicators, collectively known as ENSO. Once at least three out of four criteria have been met, that’s it, El Niño is officially here.

As BOM’s Andrew Watkins wrote on The Conversation today, the criteria are as follows:

tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures at least 0.8C above normal (currently they are 1.1C above the mean, and April averaged 0.82C above);

trade winds weaker than average (generally weak or even reversed since January 2015);

the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) below –7 (it has been negative pretty much since July 2014);

climate models are confident it will continue ( all models we survey say ocean temperatures will remain at El Niño levels at least into late 2015.

You might think that if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, there isn’t much to worry about, but this oceanic weather shift can actually cause extreme weather around the world, although its impact isn’t usually as strong in Europe. Still, meteorologists are calling this El Niño ‘substantial’, so there’s every chance that Australia might break yet another heat record. This is unsurprising, because increasing global temperatures have been producing more and more extreme weather across the board.

Because El Niño in Australia seems to be regarded as a bad thing, or at least a thing that needs to be reckoned with, I know I should probably not feel excited about it. And hey, it’s likely to be pretty dry, and terrible, and unpleasant. But, just between us, I’m really curious about what the next couple years are going to be like, and whether this weather pattern can really be felt on a daily basis. I come from a pretty mild-mannered climatic area, so an El Niño is almost cause for excitement.

Remind me of this when I’m complaining about a severe draught in Sydney next year.

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