By one measure, this wicked El Niño is the strongest ever recorded: What it means

Hub Telegram: The El Niño event of 2015-2016 is making history, wreaking weather havoc around the world and forecast to unleash many weather surprises through the coming winter.

As of today, the warm ocean temperatures that define El Niño have surged to a stunning three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal in the central tropical Pacific, the highest level ever measured.

Many global impacts already

El Niño events, while simply descriptions of ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific and not storms, have ripple effects on weather patterns all over the world.

“Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño, which is the strongest for more than 15 years,” said World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in a news release.

The WMO published a long list of many harmful weather impacts for which this El Niño has been implicated, including coral bleaching and the most active season for intense tropical cyclones in the Northern Hemisphere on record, both due to historically warm ocean waters.

It also linked El Niño with drought in South East, Asia which has lead to one of the worst wildfire outbreaks in Indonesia on record.

Not all impacts from El Niño have been harmful. For example, it introduced wind shear in the tropical Atlantic which has depressed hurricane activity that might impact North America and may already be increasing precipitation in California, which is suffering from a historic drought.

‘Uncharted territory’

This El Niño is operating in a warmer world in which forecasters have no prior experience predicting its effects.

“This event is playing out in uncharted territory,” Jarraud said. “Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change, the general trend towards a warmer global ocean, the loss of Arctic sea ice and of over a million square kilometers of summer snow cover in the northern hemisphere.”

“So this naturally occurring El Niño event and human induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced,” he said.

“Even before the onset of El Niño, global average surface temperatures had reached new records. El Niño is turning up the heat even further,” Jarraud added.

While El Niño has certain characteristic effects which we have discussed at length in the past (for the D.C. area, and the U.S. and beyond), the background warmth adds a potential element of surprise heading into the winter months.

Comparing this year’s El Niño vs. 1997-1998, and what it portends

While today’s unsurpassed ocean temperature measurement in the central tropical Pacific made history, it is too soon to know if this toasty temperature reading is just a blip or a signal. In order for this El Niño to officially pass 1997-1998’s event as the strongest on record, the warm waters would need to be sustained near these level for three months.

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