The scale of the devastating 2015-2016 El Nino is just coming to light. In Southern Africa alone, 41.4 million people are food insecure, according to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), with 21 million needing immediate humanitarian assistance due to an epic El Nino-fueled drought–the worst in 35 years. As SADC points out in its report released on June 15, 2016, there is relief on the horizon; a 70% chance of La Nina later this year bringing replenishing rains…and a risk of major flooding.
La Nina is likely coming, and will it be a smooth, linear transition to a calmer global pattern, or an ugly ENSO whiplash?
2011 was the warmest La Nina on record. Cyclones pummeled Melanesia, triggered food crises in Vanuatu, and atmospheric rivers created an inland sea in Australia the size of Germany. The North Atlantic Ocean saw a strong and nasty hurricane season as well, and La Nina-fueled tornado outbreaks throughout the United States. Could a 2016-17 La Nina exceed that legacy?
In terms of cyclones, La Nina may give the North Pacific basin a respite from last year’s absurdly hyperactive season. But Australia, Melanesia, the Indian Ocean Basin, and the North Atlantic will need to be closely watched in the coming months. Not to say that a typhoon could not drift through the West Pacific through September, which brings us to another point.
For perhaps the first time in the history of meteorology, in the next 4 months, as La Nina sets up, cyclones will need to be as closely monitored in the Arctic Ocean as in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic . What would happen if the remains of an Atlantic hurricane rides an anomalously hot Gulf Stream, sweeps past the Canadian Maritimes and gets pinballed by a high pressure system into the Fram Straight? Or if a Pacific Typhoon curved from Japan out to Alaska, yet gets pushed into the Bering Straight? Or a locally-brewed strong system simply set up in the Arctic?
Fortunately, there is plenty of outstanding recent content about our urgent Arctic Amplification crisis, and the consequences a wildcard like a cyclone getting loose in the Arctic–sea ice decline, an approach to the Blue Ocean Event threshold of 1 million sq km of ice extent, decayed jet streams, altered weather patterns, and the ultimate game changer–methane. Devastating would be an understatement.
For a comprehensive update, see this amazing interview by Wolfgang Werminghausen of Paul Beckwith published on June 16, 2016:
And Thom Hartmann’s recent interview with the esteemed Professor Peter Wadhams published on June 10, 2016:
La Nina may be here soon. Get ready to watch for Atlantic hurricanes, South Pacific cyclones, and impacts in the Indian Ocean Basin. In the coming months, the global community must keep a keen eye on another ocean basin of incredible humanitarian significance–with vigilance, we’ll need to watch for cyclones in the Arctic.
Program Note: I’m editing interviews with two outstanding guests for Episode 7 of the Relief Analysis podcast. Leanne Simon, Executive Director of food organization Zomppa, calls in from Australia to discuss her deeply personal quest for food justice, the shocking food labor camps underpinning the supply chain, and her upcoming work in post-Winston Fiji. And Jatin Singh, CEO of Skymet–India’s first private weather company–fully embraces abrupt climate disruption, and breaks down the latest in India’s climate emergency. Look forward to publishing soon.