El Nino Heat Map

The present El Niño formation has the potential to become the strongest on record. The yellow areas indicate concentrations of warming water. (Photo: Earth.nullschool.net)

Mike Moffitt
Monday, July 27, 2015 – Updated 11:45 am

New computer models suggest that the current El Niño formation brewing in the Pacific could become the strongest in recorded history.

The broad swath of warmer-than-usual seawater is spreading and deepening. The two largest concentrations are off the coast of Peru, where water is 4 degrees Centigrade warmer than usual, and just west of Vancouver and Seattle — 3 degrees warmer.

If this El Niño continues to grow, it could surpass the modern record-setting 1997-98 El Niño event, which inundated the Bay Area and the rest of California for months, causing flooding, mudslides and subsidences, and heavy snowfalls in the Sierra.

The latest data from the National Weather Service’s North American Multi-Model Ensemble indicates a greater-than 95 percent chance of a strong El Niño and a greater-than 60 percent chance of the strongest El Niño on record.

But Jan Null, certified consulting meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services, cautions that those scenarios are based on only one of many models.

“We don’t know if one model is better than any other,” said Null, who noted that strong ocean warming trends have occurred before in the summer only to have the El Niño fizzle out in the winter.

Indeed, earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s El Niño blog threw cold water on claims of a strong or super El Niño based on weekly fluctuations of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

“Current observed conditions are not the same as a forecast for the future. While a certain feature may be eye grabbing and it could persist, it does not mean that it will continue,” says Michelle L’Heureux in the NOAA blog.

While El Niño is associated with warming in the southern Pacific, Null is also keeping an eye on the temperature rise in the Gulf of Alaska, which he said is unprecedented.

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