Guest opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
Bob Tisdale wrote an “April Fools” article about the extreme nature of the 1998 El Niño. It was clever and humorous, but also fulfills Shakespeare’s observation that,
“Jesters do oft prove prophets.”
It is widely accepted that global temperature rose in 1998, and the rise is attributed to El Niño. The problem is that the attribution cannot be confirmed. How much of the increase was due to El Niño? As I explained in another article, the forecasts for the 2015 El Niño failed because the mechanisms are not understood. Dr. William Kessler of NOAA provides a list of answers to questions about El Niño one of which asks, “What initiates El Niño?” Kessler’s answer,
It is necessary to state outright that we do not know why El Niño events begin. It’s not that the answer is obfuscated behind scientific jargon. It’s that we don’t know. Not only don’t we know, we’re not really that close to knowing.
Assuming that the peak in temperature in 1998 was caused by El Niño ignores all other changes in climate mechanisms, or, at least, assumes they remain constant. The issue is complicated by Kessler’s answer to the question, “Is the periodicity of El Niño events (every 2-7 years) the same as La Niñas?”
No! It is wrong to think of this as an oscillation, simply swinging back and forth. There can be several El Niños in a row, as we had in the early 1990s. Many scientists are coming to the view that there may not be such a thing as La Niña, or at least that it is not just the opposite of El Niño.
Whatever triggers El Nino is also triggering other changes in energy balance and the mechanisms of change. They are important and contributing to the total temperature change.
The public became aware of El Niño following the shift northward of the 1983 event, so it affected southern California. This took it out of what was assumed as its general area of impact along the western coast of South America and Central America as illustrated in Figure 1. The El Niño events became the latest fad in predictions as climate science became a political vehicle in environmental alarmism. For example, Environment Canada and other agencies made long-term forecasts based on El Niño and global warming, but they were wrong almost every time. As I explained to farmers in Canada, El Niño does not affect Canada. It only appears to because the weather patterns in Canada change at the same time but in completely different ways. The analogy I used was that it was like somebody studying a car and noting that every time the front bumper moved the back bumper moved. The “El Niño type” conclusion is that the front bumper was causing the back bumper to move. In fact, whatever was causing El Niño to change was also causing the Circumpolar Vortex to change. That same cause of the change was also affecting other changes of heat balance and redistribution by global wind patterns.
Heat Energy, Imbalance, and Redistribution.
The issue is the balance of energy and the transfers that occur to redress the imbalance. These transfers are little understood yet occur on a much larger scale than El Nino. One major mechanism attempts to redress the imbalance between the latitudinal surplus and deficit regions shown in Figure 2.
The transfer occurs along the line marked by the zone of Zero Energy Balance. In the atmosphere, it is delineated as the Polar Front (Figure 3).
Rossby or Planetary Waves that form along the Front are the major transfer mechanism.
The Waves vary in number, between approximatley 3 and 8, and in amplitude from Zonal (4a) to Meridional (4b). Each configuration creates different weather patterns in the middle latitudes between 30 and 70°.
Figure 4a Figure 4b
Features associated with a strong Meridional flow include a measurable increase in variability of temperatures and precipitation. There is also a shift from the Zonal wind pattern of southwest in the summer and northwest in winter to the Meridional pattern of more southerly and northerly winds throughout the year.
The second great transfer involves the Hadley Cell. Figure 5 shows the cell for the Northern Hemisphere, a similar cell occurs in the Southern Hemisphere.
George Hadley described the mechanism using wind records from ships logs and the effect of Coriolis force in 1735, with little knowledge or understanding added since. It is a major failing of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models because of lack of data and a grid size too large to accommodate the thousands of convective cells that form in the rising air along the heat equator.
A third great transfer mechanism is the monsoons, especially the one that impacts the Indian subcontinent and all the way into central Asia. Figure 6 shows the pattern of winds associated with the summer and winter monsoons.
It is important to note that, just as with the Rossby Waves, the transfer of energy involves the movement of warm air from the surplus region in Figure 2, but also cold air from the deficit region. The IPCC does not deal with monsoonal mechanisms well as I explained in a previous article. They acknowledge the problem in the 2007 and 2013 Reports.
In short, most AOGCMs do not simulate the spatial or intra-seasonal variation of monsoon precipitation accurately.
The models, however, have significant problems in accurately representing its seasonal cycle because of the difficulty in capturing the asymmetric nature of the monsoonal winds over the basin, resulting in too weak a semi-annual harmonic in the local Ekman pumping over the ridge region compared to observations (Yokoi et al., 2009b).
Others are pithier in their assessment as this headline indicates “Climate Models Can’t Predict Squat: Latest IPCC Models Still Unable To Simulate Monsoons.”
In 2015, the Indian monsoon was considered below average, but that was concerning precipitation, not temperature. The anomaly was attributed to El Niño because a decrease occurred with the 2009 El Niño.
Indian monsoon rains were hit by El Niño weather pattern in 2009, when the four-month long monsoon season turned the driest in nearly four decades.
Figure 7 shows the Interannual variations of the Indian Summer Monsoon plotting floods and droughts against El Niño and La Nina events.
The accompanying text says,
It is interesting to note that there have been alternating periods extending to 3-4 decades with less and more frequent weak monsoons over India. For example, the 44-year period 1921-64 witnessed just three drought years; during such epochs, the monsoon was found to be less correlated with the ENSO. During the other periods like that of 1965-87 which had as many as 10 drought years out of 23, the monsoon was found to be strongly linked to the ENSO (Parthasarathy et al., 1991).
Likely because of this, they concluded that
Prediction of the future evolution of the monsoon activity, at least a season in advance, remains a difficult challenge.
Others confirm this finding. Tom Di Liberto, in an article titled “ENSO and the Indian Monsoon… not as straightforward as you’d think,” concludes
“So remember, not every El Niño event affects global circulation in the same way, which makes seasonal forecasting all the more important.”
Maybe the answer is that not every El Niño affects circulation in the same way because it is not the only factor changing global circulation.
A couple of years ago NASA finally acknowledged that the wind is a major factor in the pattern of Arctic sea ice formation and dissipation. If they studied climate history, that is go beyond the official instrumental record, they would know that this is not new. Mount Tambora erupted in 1815 in the middle of the cooling trend associated with the Dalton Minimum (1790 to 1830). In the conference and workshops on the impact of Tambora, we plotted temperature and precipitation patterns on world maps. They disclosed that there was an extreme increase in the amplitude of the Rossby Waves in the Circumpolar Vortex (Figures 3, 4a and b). This year the situation is similarly a function of changing wind patterns. Patterns of weather occurring now are precisely what occurs when the world is in a cooling trend, and the global wind patterns change.
Dramatic cooling caused by the eruption of Tambora produced extreme examples of Meridional Flow. One of these included the shift in wind patterns that transported warm air and water to portions of the Arctic to combine with the wind for a dramatic impact on ice conditions. The conditions were recorded in a November 20, 1817, letter the President of the Royal Society proposed to the British Admiralty:
It will without doubt have come to your Lordship’s knowledge that a considerable change of climate inexplicable at present to us must have taken place in the Circumpolar Regions, by which the severity of the cold that has for centuries past inclosed (sic) the seas in the high northern latitudes in an impenetrable barrier of ice has been during the last two years greatly abated.
Mr. Scoresby, a very intelligent young man who commands a whaling vessel from Whitby observed last year that 2000 square leagues of ice with which the Greenland Seas between the latitudes of 74° and 80°N have been hitherto covered, has in the last two years entirely disappeared.
The pattern of Arctic weather and ice conditions this winter is somewhat similar, albeit not as extreme. The Rossby Wave Meridional flow resulted in anomalous wind patterns, ocean currents and ice conditions. It is probable that this added heat raised the global average that was not a result of El Nino. Figure 8 shows the average pattern of Arctic winds and ocean currents.
The main influx of warm water is the North Atlantic Drift. Figure 9 shows the percentage concentration of ice for April 2, 2016, and Figure 10 shows the ice cover for April 1, 2016, with a delineation of the anomaly from the average. The increased melting, especially in the Russian sector due to greater heat transport by wind and water from the Meridional Wave pattern is apparent. This heat is not due to El Nino but does add to the global average.
El Niño became a fad explanation for weather phenomena after the event moved outside of what was considered its normal area of impact in 1983. The science community did not understand the mechanisms involved or the long term variations in the patterns of weather created. The public was left with the impression that this was a new phenomenon entirely due to human activity as the global warming hysteria was exploited.
Climate science assumed the peak in global temperature was solely due to the El Niño that occurred in 1998. They also applied the other misleading concept of teleconnections, which evolved around the chaos theory notion that a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan, and California gets a severe storm several days later. If there are teleconnections, it is because the change that causes the El Niño wind, and subsequent ocean current reversals is an outside the atmosphere forcing that manifests itself in different ways at different latitudes and longitudes. The net result is an increase in global temperature due to several causes, not just El Niño.
 The maps were included separately in a pocket inside the back cover.