El Nino is here in force

I’m sure if you’ve paid attention to the climate you’ve heard that we are in an El Nino.  This years  El Nino has evolved into one the strongest of the last generation. In fact it has  moved into the  realm of  one of the strongest El Ninos ever recorded. When tropical  westerly trade winds fail water piles up against north western South America.  Lack of oxygen in the warmer waters causes fishing to fail. This phenomenon is most pronounced around Christmas and produces the name of this phenomenon . El Nino or the Christ child.  The last mega El Nino was in 2015/2016 and it lead to the planets warmest year in 125,000 years.,  lt has been 7 years since our last El Nino and this one is poised to bring the warmest year ever experienced by humans. 2023 with 9/12 months far above normal is already the warmest year of the past 20 millennia.  In fact the overall atmospheric warming that El Nino  has caused and all of that warm water at the surface heats the whole world, for three  months this autumn has pushed the earths temperature past the daunted 1.5ºC that climate scientists have warned is the cusp of disastrous weather conditions and the basis for the Paris Accords.

The results are not good, we’ve  seen that this year.  We’ve had 25 Billion dollar disasters in the United States from colossal floods to heat waves, Derechos, and Hurricanes. These conditions have been ringing the earth from Beijing’s three weeks above 105ºF that  turned into the most disastrous flood with the intrusion of a tropical system in Chinese modern history to torrid conditions during WINTER in South America.  The result was the warmest year since humans have walked the planet. Violent heat waves have afflicted every continent .  Heat waves have tripled in intensity and records are not broken by the former average of .08ºC but 3-9ºC above recorded records. Europe has been specifically impacted with periods of record heat moving around the Mediterranean this summer. Followed by energized storms Medicanes (Hurricane like storms that form in warm water in the Mediterranean )that struck Greece and Libya with catastrophic flooding. Other record stretches of heat occurred in the US Southwest and the south central parts of the country.  In the US. Phoenix spent nearly 1 and a half months above 110ºF and a record number of consecutive days above 115ºF. And a catastrophic heat/drought in the central southern US that has seen the flow of the Mississippi  fall below its ability to flush seawater from invading up the river basin, threatening the drinking water of New Orleans.

This summer reached several extraordinary milestones in Portland, on August 13 we hit 108ºF (42ºC). That caused little fanfare in our warming world. In reality it was the fourth time in two years that we have exceeded the all time 20th century record of 107ºF (41ºC). Insane in the law of climatic averages and most likely just a blip in the hot temperatures that are to come. The heat wave of the third week of August was the second most severe in Portland history. 101, 103, 103, 108, 99  in sequence. It appears our immediate future will hold short but intensely hot summers before fall rains mitigate the temperature.  We have always gardened with three months of no rain but now we add extreme  heat to the picture and we will have to garden accordingly. The most conspicuous heating has involved overnight lows. Portland once again surpassed its record of plus 60ºF lows for the year.

Climatologists will look back to the year 2015 when the most climate changes moved to the forefront. Record highs, ocean temperatures , upper latitude temperatures all reached a new high. Every year since then has added to the excess of records. In that year the ocean exceeded its 90% capacity to hold heat. Several immediate effects are dangerous to our coastlines. Record high temperatures near the continental shelf pushed the mercury past 101ºF in the ocean water off of Key West. Not only did this produce a fever of unrelenting heat for the Florida peninsula it caused the bleaching death of 95% of coral reefs that populate that area.

The results of all of this warming is a more than likely warmer than average winter. Add to that record sea temperatures in the north Pacific and it looks like winter could take a break this year.  Unless the jet stream fails entirely and a huge trough of cold air sags south as happened in Texas in 2020 and forces record temperatures. The likelihood of that this year is slim.  From every direction we are seeing a source of above normal temperatures.

NOAA Climate prediction center.

So, the chances are excessive that we will have milder than normal winter. Chances are PDX will not even drop below 20ºF.  These mild winters have become the norm with 6 out of 10 winters zone 9 in the past 20 years.

El Nino is best represented in the northern US as warmer and drier. In the Pacific Northwest a de-engergized polar jet stream sees systems split and stretch losing their impact as they head inland. This results in lighter than average rain and long stretches of fair to partly cloudy weather. We can still have a good ski season but the affects are often sparse with lower than average accumulations. El nino naturally causes a drier regime in the PNW.

NOAA Climate prediction center.

Now the most mildest years in Portland history have occurred during moderate El Nino’s. Its possible that a major El Nino could cause the southern jet to enhance and give us little more precipitation and that also ever so slightly increases our chance of arctic cold too, thats basically the only fly in the ointment. And its a vast outlier.

More than likely we will see a winter that passes with little fanfare. And the chances of a February cold wave are greatly reduced. The past three La Nina years have seen a cold wave/snowstorm/ice in the center to end of February. In fact we’ve recorded snow at PDX for the past 8 winters which is rare. This might be the winter when little to no snow falls at all.

In winters such as this Fuchsias refuse to freeze back, loquats ripen winter fruit and Camellias bloom unabated through winter.

We will see  you in early February at our annual reopening. Hopefully after a winter that wasn’t.

2 thoughts on “El Nino is here in force

  1. Paul, good morning. I share your interest in climate and weather and do worry while tending my garden.

    I noted your mention of the blooming camillias. My sasanqua is certainly blooming more than it has in the last few years. The Anna’s Hummingbird does not mind.

    I am concerned about the heat and lack of care of Portland’s street trees. Apparently there’s a committee formed of residents and city officials to address the planting and maintenance. We’ll see if any care is given. I do wonder if Katsuras–I love this tree and have one–should continue to be planted as they need water and a bit less sun, right?

    Thank you for all your advice about plants when I chat with you at Xera if I catch you. I remember you expressing your love of the Pinus edulis, my pinon pine and it’s glancing silver needles. (I was raised in Northern New Mexico.)

    With appreciation,

    Linore Blackstone

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