Weather Blog

Worldwide strengthening El Nino giveth and taketh away

Worldwide strengthening El Nino giveth and taketh away

You've probably already heard the news, especially if you've read my blog anytime in the past six months, that El Nino is here and getting stronger. Scientists say there is a greater than 90 percent chance of El Nino this winter and an 80 percent chance it lasts into the spring.

El Nino's around here have a hallmark of bringing a winter that's not only warmer than usual but drier than usual as well. This plus the infamous "warm blob" of ocean heat offshore and this winter may already be a lost cause for much in the way of lowland snow and puts serious doubts into getting much in the way of mountain snow either.

You can think of some people who would benefit from that -- for example, the DOT would likely have to spend less money clearing mountain passes, and if mountain snow storms are lacking, it'll be easier to move goods across the state without fear of pass closures. We might actually be able to get to the Apple Cup without moms and dads having to freak out over their kids driving over snowy passes Thanksgiving week (although don't take that as an official forecast. It's not like it never snows in El Nino years, it's just not as frequent.)

On the other hand, the ski resorts, which probably took a financial bath last year, have to be a bit pessimistic going into this season as well.

But it's not just the Pacific Northwest where El Nino has a hand in economics; it's a global event.

Here's how other parts of the world are preparing for El Nino, courtesy Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Frank Bajak:

WASHINGTON (AP) - In California, they're counting on it to end an historic drought; in Peru, they've already declared a pre-emptive emergency to prepare for devastating flooding. It's both an economic stimulus and a recession-maker. And it's likely to increase the price of coffee, chocolate and sugar.

It's El Nino - most likely, the largest in well over a decade, forecasters say. A lot more than mere weather, it affects lives and pocketbooks in different ways in different places.

Every few years, the winds shift and the water in the Pacific Ocean gets warmer than usual. That water sloshes back and forth around the equator in the Pacific, interacts with the winds above and then changes weather worldwide. This is El Nino. Droughts are triggered in places like Australia and India, but elsewhere, droughts are quenched and floods replace them. The Pacific gets more hurricanes; the Atlantic fewer. Winter gets milder and wetter in much of the United States. The world warms, goosing Earth's already rising thermometer from man-made climate change.

Peruvian sailors named the formation El Nino - the (Christ) Child - because it was most noticeable around Christmas. An El Nino means the Pacific Ocean off Peru's coast is warm, especially a huge patch 330 feet (100 meters) below the surface, and as it gets warmer and close to the surface, the weather "is just going to be a river falling from the sky," said biophysicist Michael Ferrari, director of climate services for agriculture at the Colorado firm aWhere Inc.

Around the world, crops fail in some places, thrive elsewhere. Commercial fishing shifts. More people die of flooding, fewer from freezing. Americans spend less on winter heating. The global economy shifts.

"El Nino is not the end of the world so you don't have to hide under the bed. The reality is that in the U.S. an El Nino can be a good thing," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.

This El Nino officially started in March and keeps getting stronger. If current trends continue, it should officially be termed a strong El Nino early in August, peak sometime near the end of year and peter out sometime next spring. Meteorologists say it looks like the biggest such event since the fierce El Nino of 1997-1998.

California mudslides notwithstanding, the U.S. economy benefited by nearly $22 billion from that El Nino, according to a 1999 study. That study found that 189 people were killed in the U.S, mainly from tornadoes linked to El Nino, but an estimated 850 lives were saved due to a milder winter.

A United Nations-backed study said that El Nino cost Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela nearly $11 billion. Flooding in Peru destroyed bridges, homes, hospitals and crops and left 354 dead and 112 missing, according to the Pan-American Health Organization. The mining industry in Peru and Chile was hammered as flooding hindered exports.

Though this year's El Nino is likely to be weaker than the 1997-1998 version, the economic impact may be greater because the world's interconnected economy has changed with more vulnerable supply chains, said risk and climate expert Ferrari.

Economic winners include the U.S., China, Mexico and Europe while India, Australia and Peru are among El Nino's biggest losers.

On average, a healthy El Nino can boost the U.S. economy by about 0.55 percent of Gross Domestic Product, which would translate more than $90 billion this year, an International Monetary Fund study calculated this spring. But it could also slice an entire percentage point off Indonesia's GDP.

Indonesia gets hit particularly hard because an expected El Nino drought affects the country's mining, power, cocoa, and coffee industries, said IMF study co-author Kamiar Mohaddes, an economist at the University of Cambridge in London.

The expected El Nino drought in parts of Australia has started and may trim as much as 1 percent off of the country's GDP, said Andrew Watkins, supervisor of climate prediction services at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Tony Barnston, lead El Nino forecaster at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, cautioned that while El Nino has predictable effects and this one is strong, what happens next is not exactly certain.

But Peruvians are worried. Abraham Levy, director of Ambiental Andina, which advises businesses on meteorology- and hydrology-related issues, believes this El Nino could lead Peru into recession. Important export crops such as mangos and asparagus that grow in coastal valleys are already being adversely affected by the unseasonably high temperatures, said Levy.

"The export mango crop has not yet flowered," he said. "And if we don't have flowers we don't have fruit."

And then there's the flooding. Peru declared a pre-emptive state of emergency this month for 14 of its 25 states, appropriating some $70 million to prepare. Hilopito Cruchaga, the civil defense director in Peru's northern region of Piura, said authorities are clearing river beds of debris, reinforcing river banks with rock and fortifying reservoir walls. Sandbags and rocks are also being piled on some river banks.

"If the sea stays this hot at the end of August I'm afraid we're doomed," he said.

This video shows why Midwesterners laugh at Seattle storms

Sunday's scattered thunderstorms probably qualified as a relatively stormy day around, here, especially by Northwest standards. Some spots had some torrential rain, and we had a few reports of hail, none super large though.

Western Washington is fortunate that our marine climate makes actual severe weather systems just about impossible to form; and what thunderstorms we get pale in comparison to just about any other thunderstorm you'd find east of the Cascades.

Restless Convergence Zone brings rain 15 different times to Everett

Restless Convergence Zone brings rain 15 different times to Everett
Photo courtesy Paine Field Web Camera

Not that many around here use an umbrella to begin with, but if we did, they would probably be mechanically worn out this weekend, at least if you lived around Everett.

A weak Puget Sound Convergence Zone hung out over a narrow band of Snohomish County from start to finish Saturday, but like a 2-year-old at a restaurant, it wasn't content to just sit still.

The zone was only a few miles wide and drifted north and south from about the King-Snohomish County line back up into Downtown Everett… and back again as the corresponding north and south winds pushed back and forth like a tug of war.

Weekend rain showers dripping with irony for Seattle

Weekend rain showers dripping with irony for Seattle
Chart showing number of times Seattle has had measurable rain on each day from Jan. 1, 1893- Dec. 31, 2014. (Data courtesy: National Weather Service. Chart courtesy: Evan Schmidt)

We're in the midst of one of the hottest and driest summers in recent memory. Seattle hadn't had measurable rain since June 28 and hasn't had significant rain since June 1. The last time it rained on a weekend? April 25.

So naturally, one of the weekends it rarely rains is the one weekend when it does rain.

The last weekend in July is statistically the driest in Seattle with the first weekend in August no slouch. It's rained only about 9-12 times in the past 122 years on those dates -- or about once every 10 years.

In soggy Seattle, that's the best odds you can ask for. That's why Seafair's biggest events are this time of year; why Torchlight Parade is this Saturday evening and why savvy locals know to rush to book their outdoor wedding or party the instant the last weekend in July becomes available on the venue's calendar.

Why has it been so warm so long? This picture says 1,000 words

Why has it been so warm so long? This picture says 1,000 words

We're coming up on 17 months in a row with above normal temperatures on average, and several of those months have been the warmest on record in Seattle. This summer, we've had dozens of days in the 80s, already the second-most 90-degree days on record with August still to come. The coldest low temperature we've had in the entire month of July? 57. The average low is 55.

People have been asking me why has it been so warm for so long? Well, NOAA did me a favor and sent out this handy graphic which shows exactly why: The warm Pacific Ocean.

Sharknadoes -- COULD THEY HAPPEN HERE?!?

Sharknadoes -- COULD THEY HAPPEN HERE?!?
Screen grab from SyFy preview video for movie "Sharknado"

Scott's note: It's SHARKNADO DAY! Sharknado 3 airs tonight at 9pm on the SyFy Network. To celebrate, the blog today has encore entry from when the first one aired two years ago. And if you want to watch the latest installment along with me, I'll be Live Tweeting during the show on my Twitter page @ScottsKOMO

Story originally published July 12, 2013:




Social media and water coolers were abuzz Friday with the next DVD blockbuster sci-fi (emphasis on the 'fi') movie "Sharknado" that aired on the Sy-Fy channel Thursday night.

But this jaw-dropping (jaw-clenching?) story brought up an important facet of meteorological studies that have been historically and woefully underfunded: The science of shark-infested tornadoes from hurricanes that strike the Pacific Coast of the United States.

Seattle warm stretch to last into October ... 2016?!?

Seattle warm stretch to last into October ... 2016?!?
Photo: Mark T. Davis

OK, I admit it, I'm cheating the headline. It's nearly the same headline I wrote last month in my blog, only it said September instead of October. But the new monthly maps have been updated, and -- surprise -- the warm blobs in the forecast remain intact through not just this fall, but next autumn as well.

In the short term, there still remains very high confidence the Northwest will have a hot remainder of summer, and, well, it was sure right about the first part of summer.

We've already had as many hot days so far this year than we average in an entire year, shattered the record for hottest June on record, and the first half of July in on the pace to set the same record (although there are some signs July will back off the flamethrower switch after the weekend. More on that in a bit.) In fact, if the second half of July were to mirror the first half, we'd be talking about hottest month in Seattle history! (But as I just teased, that seems unlikely.)

Friday Night Lights: Another incredible summer sunset

Friday Night Lights: Another incredible summer sunset
Photo: Greg Johnson,

Smoky skies make for surreal scenes around Northwest

Smoky skies make for surreal scenes around Northwest
Photo courtesy YouNews contributor lfsleos

If the smoky skies this week haven't been noticeable to you during the day, it's certainly been a factor in the evening sunsets, as it's been turning the sun a brilliant red the last few nights.

The smoke is coming from a massive wildfire burning near Pemberton, B.C.

Since Sunday, the upper level winds have been out of the north, pushing the smoke south across the border into Washington as you can see on this satellite image from Wednesday.

(Note the chalky gray streaming out of the mountains just across Vancouver Island on the B.C. Mainland and sinking south:)

Miss Seattle's rain? This video might help...

Miss Seattle's rain? This video might help...
A soggy day at the Seattle's Space Needle. (Photo courtesy: Brendan Ramsey)

It's been 36 days since Seattle has had a day considered below normal…

36 days since we've last had significant rainfall…

23 days since we've last had a high below 70 degrees…

18 days since we've had a traditional cloudy day…

12 days in a row with highs above 80 degrees…

A record-tying 5 days in a row at 90 degrees…

It's official: 73 percent of Seattleites DONE with this 90 degree heat

It's official: 73 percent of Seattleites DONE with this 90 degree heat »Play Video
June 27, 2015. Seattle, Wash. KOMO PHOTOS

It doesn't matter if it's a "dry heat" or that it might be even 15 degrees hotter somewhere else, as Seattle swelters to its record-tying fifth day in a row at 90 degrees or warmer on Sunday, a vast majority of Seattleites say they've had enough.

Seattle has been in the midst of a nearly year-and-a-half long warm spell, but it's been taken to the next level of late, with not only the hottest June on record by far but now July has started and we have yet to have a day under 90 degrees. The 92 degree reading Saturday was the hottest Independence Day on record here, and that includes 124 years of records. It's been 11 days since we've failed to reach 80 degrees, well on our way to a record there too.

Seattle's average high temperatures in the summer are in the mid-upper 70s and while days in the 80s and 90s do happen in summer, they are usually a few days here and there followed by more days in the 70s -- enough to where most don't need air conditioning. The result is that a vast majority of the region is not only sweating through the day, but sweating through the warm nights with little relief from any fans and nighttime breezes. It's the reality-show version of "Sleepless in Seattle."

Giving some kudos to Weather Channel's 15 day forecast

Giving some kudos to Weather Channel's 15 day forecast
Part of a 15-day forecast initiated June 20 by the Weather Channel for Seattle zip code 98158.

Back on June 20, I wrote a blog giving the Weather Channel a hard time with its 15-day forecast of an unprecedented heat stretch in Seattle. The forecast was for 8 consecutive days at 90 degrees or warmer, which would obliterate all records for Seattle, which before in its 124 years of records had never had more than five.