Caption: Images from NOAA's View Data Exploration Tool
Last month I wrote about the developing El Nino in the Equatorial Oceans of South America. This weekend, the emerging El Nino created disruptive weather across California, some of the first signs of it's impact on global weather. A major highway bridge was destroyed by flash flooding on the Interstate 10 between California and Arizona.
Images released this week by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atomspheric Administration) shows the strength of this years' El Nino compared to the strongest ever recorded in 1997. It's clear from these images that the ocean warming is high and widespread when compared to 1997. Across all monitored areas the average surface sea temperature (SST) is over 1C higher than average and in some areas it is 2C over average. An increase of 1C over average is sufficient to create El Nino conditions.
During 1997 the average was exceeded by more than 1C during 8 weeks. This year we have already seen 10 consecutive weeks where temperatures are exceeding average. Some forecasters are predicting this will be the warmest year ever and the strongest El Nino we have seen. El Nino does make predicting the weather easier - the IRI (International Research Institure for Climate and Society) of Columbia University say it will be easier to predict which areas of the world will see the wetter, colder and warmer weather caused by El Nino as it's effects are so dominant in our global weather system. Not a great consolation when the effects are considered.
Already the impact on wildlife is visible in California - millions of red crabs have been washed up on beaches, pushed north by the warm water. Sea lion pups are having to be rescued and fed as the fish that make up their usual diet have moved to colder waters. Sightings of sharks and mountain lions have increased - all due to weather changes impacting food sources and animal behaviour.
With four hurricanes hitting the Pacific coast already this year, versus two last year, the impact on human life is being felt too. In developed countries like the US, the effects of El Nino can be bad, but in the developing countries likely to be hit later in the year and next spring, the trial of devastation left may be much much worse.