We keep hearing that the climate and weather forecasting tools are gaining in sophistication, and correspondingly in reliability. Climate model simulators claim to be able to see decades, even centuries, into the future!
Yet Spiegel Science journalist Axel Bojanowski has an analysis here which looks at the recent spate of failed El Niño predictions by the NOAA, and shows that these forecasting tools are still terribly lacking. His latest piece: “Change in global weather: El Niño embarrasses meteorologists“. (Here I’m not sure why Bojanowski (or his editors) chose the term ‘meteorologists’ because much of the work is arguably done by climate scientists.)
It is an accepted fact that the El Niño cyclic changes in the equatorial Pacific surface temperatures have major impacts on the global weather, especially the northern hemisphere. Thus it would be useful if scientists were able to predict them with some degree of rough accuracy.
Unfortunately accuracy is still a long way off as forecasters falsely predicted an El Niño four years long, and only now has it finally begun to take hold. Bojanowski writes:
Seldom have meteorologists been made to look so foolish. Four years long they published the same prognosis: Soon an El Niño would be taking hold in the Pacific.”
The Spiegel journalist describes how last June experts were “80% sure” a powerful El Niño was in the works, and how in 2013 “a peer-reviewed paper in a well known science journal” boasted of new forecasting methods for El Niños. Sadly, these experts aren’t anywhere near getting it right. So, as a result, Bojanowski writes, they have recently become “considerably more cautious” with their forecasts. Embarrassment does that.
Bojanowski describes how the ENSO’s impact on global weather patterns, wildlife, and even regional sea levels, and how NOAA experts have had to admit the latest El Niño has been an unexpectedly tame one – in stark contradiction to forecasts made earlier. He writes: “The inaccurate forecasts of the past year has forced the scientists to rethink their methods, said NOAA expert Gabriel Vecchi in the journal ‘Nature’.”
Numerous buoys out of order!
Bojnowski also writes that the biggest problem is reliably predicting the weakening of the tradewinds, and says this has become difficult because “numerous buoys have ceased to function over the years” and so are no longer able to measure the changes in sea surface temperature.
That is certainly an interesting revelation presented here by Bojanowski. Still, NOAA El Niño forecasters should not feel too bad about their measurement and forecasting woes because it could be much worse. For example their climate colleagues haven’t gotten their global temperature forecasts right in over 18 years!
And concerning what can be done in place of the “numerous” out-of commission buoys, perhaps the NOAA El Niño scientists could consider using the “filling in the data” method and simply apply the measurements made by the closest functioning buoy (even if it is 1000 kilometers away). After all the global surface temperature scientists seem perfectly satisfied with that particular method. The data-fill-in method would surely allow the NOAA El Nino experts to make forecasts that are just as spectacularly accurate as those of the global warming climate scientists.