Over the past months we’ve witnessed a powerful El Niño, a Pacific oceanic phase that brings warm sea surface temperatures along the equatorial Pacific. This El Niño has made 2015 global temperatures among the highest on the satellite record.
But not only has the equatorial surface Pacific been warm, so has a vast part of the northeastern Pacific, as the following chart from April 2015 shows:
Figure 1: Warm sea surface temperature anomaly over the northeastern Pacific along the North American west coast indicated in red, recorded April 2015, along with a small patch of cool North Atlantic sea surface. Source: April 2015 Sea Surface Temperature (SST) Anomaly Update, Hat tip: wobleibtdieerderwaermung
Also the North Atlantic sea surface had been warm, but recently turned cool as the above chart shows.
Now, some eight months later, we see a disturbing northern hemisphere oceanic surface trend very much in the works. No, sea surface temperatures have not gotten even warmer – rather quite to the contrary: they’ve gotten tremendously colder.
Fig. 2: The latest chart above shows the large reduction of the northeastern Pacific warm blob, and the huge growth in the North Atlantic cold region. Source: cropped from Unisys here.
The above chart shows two major developments: 1) the northeastern Pacific warm blob has shriveled away massively, and 2) the North Atlantic cool spot has exploded in size and is now a vast region of cold sea surface temperatures. The northern hemisphere is de facto getting refrigerated.
La Nina will cool globe further
Not only are northern hemisphere sea surface temperatures falling rapidly, but also the equatorial Pacific is set for a widespread cool-down as the current El Niño begins its decline and heads towards a La Niña, the cool phase of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Most models now show it will arrive possibly late 2016. This means the globe will very likely soon see three vast and major oceanic regions entering a cool phase all at once. This is setting up to have profound impacts on global temperature over the coming months and two-three years – if not longer.
Meteorologist Joe Bastardi at Weatherbell has pointed out a number of times that the last La Niñas have gotten progressively deeper, and states we should not be surprised if the next one is as deep, or even deeper. Could we be looking at a major northern hemispheric cooling (0.5°C or more) by 2017?
What’s interesting is the large corridor of cool Atlantic sea surface that has since formed southwest of the British islands, west of Spain (Fig. 2). Europeans will recall that the continent’s recent weather was dominated by almost non-stop southwesterly winds over the past 2 months. That period of extremely mild weather Europeans have been experiencing was in fact due to that large, uninterrupted flow of warm, southwesterly air coming off the Atlantic. Had the opposite happened, Europe would have been frozen over, just as was the case in 2010.
What happens to tropical warmth up north?
Today we see a powerful storm centered over Iceland that is pumping up yet more warmth – all the way to the North Pole:
Fig. 3: Unusual event: warm tropical air getting transported all the way to the North Pole. Source: here.
That sort of tropics-to-pole movement we see above has been going on over the northeast Atlantic for some 2 months -though not that extreme.
Here’s something to think about, and maybe I can get some feedback on this. What happens to all that thermal surface energy that got swept up from the Atlantic tropics and moved to the high latitudes (in the dead of winter)? Would it not all get rapidly radiated out into space at these very high latitudes?
Wouldn’t that pattern accelerate the surface cooling of the oceans at the mid and lower Atlantic latitudes (e.g. see Fig. 2, west of Spain)? Could this now protracted pattern have made the cooling in the Atlantic even more pronounced and explain in part why the North Atlantic has cooled? If so, what impact will a cool Atlantic in combination with a soon to be widespread cool Pacific have on global temperatures over the next couple of years?
Now throw in the soon-coming low solar activity.
If you are into warming, don’t be surprised if you suddenly find things turning very cool, and soon. The next couple of years will be interesting. My hunch is that Joe Bastardi is on the right track. We’ll soon see!
UPDATE: Here’s what NCEP chart shows (hat-tip: Joe Bastardi).