Could we see a new 'El Nino' in the near future? - Coeur d'Alene Press: Weather Gems

Could we see a new 'El Nino' in the near future?

Weather Gems

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Posted: Monday, May 14, 2012 12:00 am

The latest sea-surface temperature data indicates that we're in a "La Nada," or in-between the warmer El Nino and cooler La Nina phenomenons. Readings near the South American coastline have warmed to "above" normal levels since the middle of April. After another long period with La Nina, the cooler than normal sea-surface temperature event, readings are starting to warm up. Over the last several weeks, sea-surface temperatures have rapidly climbed to about 3-4 degrees above normal levels near the South American coastline.

The recent rise of sea-surface temperatures along the South American coastline may be an indication of the formation of a new El Nino. It's quite possible that this new warm-water phenomenon may be declared by the fall season.

Japanese and Australian scientists have already stated that we're heading into, and even preparing for, a new El Nino due to the fast warming of ocean waters near the Equatorial region. But, as of early this year, we've been in a "back and forth" pattern of cooling and warming of ocean waters. We should have a better of idea of this trend over the next month or so.

Sea-surface temperatures are also slightly warmer than normal in the Gulf of Mexico, especially near the U.S. coast. With the current "La Nada" pattern, this could lead to above normal numbers of tropical storms or hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean waters as the season begins on June 1.


Solar activity, or storms on the sun, have been in a "back and forth" pattern since late 2011. Many scientists are still saying that this upcoming solar maxima cycle, which is expected to peak in late 2012 or early 2013, should not be very strong. Since late April, however, sunspot numbers have increased dramatically after relatively low solar activity in February and March.

The recent numbers show that on May 7, there were only 79 solar storms, compared to 169 storms on April 24. That was one of the largest increases since early this year.

It's possible this recent spike is temporary. Scientists are saying that we experienced "a dramatic fall in solar activity" in February and March. The average numbers fell to 33.1 sunspots, which is "a significantly lower number than the last three solar maxima cycles, in addition to having a delayed start."

However, new solar flares were ejected from the sun since early this year and registered as a moderate storms.

As we continue to head toward the new solar "maxima," additional solar flares are likely. Space physicist Pete Riley, senior scientist at Predictive Science in San Diego, predicts that the Earth "has a roughly 12 percent chance of experiencing a massive solar storm within the next decade" that would knock out most modern technology. The event could cause trillions of dollars worth of damage to satellites, power grids, home electronics, etc. Back in 1989, a solar storm was strong enough to literally shut down a power plant in Canada.

During the "peak" of the last solar maxima in the late 1990s, we were seeing 200-300 solar storms each day. It's quite possible that we may see similar numbers by late this year or early 2013. The increased solar activity may be one reason why the northern areas of the U.S. experienced record warmth this March.

Cliff and I believe that the upcoming maxima will eventually be relatively strong, but for a short time. If we see a new El Nino form and solar activity increases over the next 12 to 18 months, don't be surprised to hear about more fluctuations of the Earth's temperature, probably to the upside. But, on the back side of the solar maxima, global temperatures could decrease, at least slightly, especially if another La Nina forms. But once again, only time will tell.

By the way, I will be teaching Physical Geography for the summer session at North Idaho College beginning June 4.


By Climatologist Cliff Harris

Despite those pesky afternoon and evening 'chemtrails,' we're seeing a 'boatload of sunshine' under a strong high pressure ridge camped over the Inland Northwest.

I don't see any significant rains for at least another week to 10 days across the region. I'm expecting afternoon highs in the 70s and lower 80s this week, cooling a bit into the upper 60s by the weekend.

We saw some light frosts this past week prior to May 12 in the outlying areas of North Idaho, but morning lows should be mostly in the 40s the rest of May into early June.

Longer-term, I see some showers and thunderstorms returning to the Inland Northwest after May 21. The following 30-day period will be one of 'sun and showers,' but much drier and warmer than a year ago when we endured a very chilly and wet 'La Nina' sea-surface temperature event in the Pacific Ocean waters.

The summer of 2012 still looks to be the warmest such season since 2006. Both Randy Mann and I see lots of 'Sholeh Days' at or above 90 degrees, especially in the 30-day span from mid July through mid August.

Total precipitation this summer should be well below normal. Most of the thunderstorm activity should occur mainly to the north and east of us over the mountains.

The weather for the late August 2012 NORTH IDAHO FAIR AND RODEO still looks good, warm and sunny with just a slight chance of an afternoon or evening thundershower. But, according to fair coordinator Margi Domme, we certainly don't want the very hot weather of last year because it cuts down on fair attendance.

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. Email

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