NOAA backs off on El Niño; Florida drought severity at issue

El Niño, where hast thou gone?

NOAA Meteorologists had El Niño chances jacked up to 90 percent in December. But the latest outlook released Thursday knocks chances all the way back to 65 percent.

In addition, although there was some warming of the tropical Pacific in November and December, the areas that affect El Niño have since cooled, and experts said the atmosphere has not responded to the warmer water and is acting as if there are neutral conditions in the Pacific — which there are.

Nonetheless, they still expect a weak El Niño to form by spring and possibly continue into fall, which would potentially help mediate the Atlantic tropical storm season. But with probabilities on the decline, it makes you wonder if this is going to happen at all.

The storminess that usually affects Central Florida during El Niño winters hasn’t developed this season, although there has been a few early winter severe weather threats in both Central and South Florida.

In Thursday’s report, NOAA said: “Regardless of the above-average SSTs, the atmospheric circulation over the tropical Pacific has not yet shown clear evidence of coupling to the ocean. The late winter and early spring tend to be the most favorable months for coupling, so forecasters still believe weak El Niño conditions will emerge shortly. However, given the timing and that a weak event is favored, significant global impacts are not anticipated during the remainder of winter, even if conditions were to form.

In Australia, where they also keep pretty close track of these things, the Bureau of Meteorology said in a January 8 report explained:

“While waters at and beneath the surface of the tropical Pacific have been warmer than average since mid-2018, atmospheric indicators of ENSO such as cloudiness, trade winds and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) have not responded and have mostly remained neutral. For an El Niño to become established, the atmosphere needs to reinforce and respond to the warmer waters at the ocean’s surface. This reinforcement is what allows the widespread global effects on weather and climate to occur.

“The recent cooling of tropical Pacific waters may partly reflect the movement of the Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO), which has recently encouraged stronger trade winds over the tropical Pacific. However, the MJO is moving east, weakening the trade winds once again, which may allow the ocean surface to warm again.”

14 day temps

(Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

Long story short, you have to wonder what impact Pacific water temperatures are causing in the U.S., since the outlook for the upper Midwest and Great Lakes area is for below normal temperatures for the second half of January, with above normal temperatures in the Southeast. That’s kind of a flip-flop from what you’d see in an El Niño.

It will be very interesting to see what the February reports have to say. Whatever happens will likely have a big impact on the 2019 hurricane season.

*

SEVERE DROUGHT ON THE WAY? Another impact of an El Niño is increased rainfall in the Southeast, including Florida. Instead, drought conditions are expanding in the peninsula and unless patterns change, we shouldn’t be terribly surprised to see Severe Drought start to edge into areas that are now under Moderate Drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor addressed this issue Thursday: “90-day rainfall deficits ranged from 4 to 8 inches from West Palm Beach south to Miami. As of January 7, water levels in Lake Okeechobee were approximately 2 feet below normal. Since it is typically dry this time of year, there are no impacts apparent at this time to support the introduction of severe drought (D2). This area will be closely monitored for future degradation.”

Through the first 10 days of January, major South Florida locations — Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Naples — have reported just a trace of rain to 0.01 of an inch. Key West has had 0.06 of an inch.

Even Orlando is down 0.13 of an inch and Jacksonville, 0.38.

Tampa had 0.84 of an inch which results in a 0.15 surplus through January 10, but most West-Central cities from Fort Myers up to Brooksville have up to a half-inch rainfall deficit.

Keep those irrigation systems cranked up and ready to go.

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Author: jnelander

Freelance writer and editor

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