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The El Niño danger that the politicians and the media are ignoring

May 9th, 2014

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology this week gave us a warning about the immediate future that could severely affect us all. And the politicians and the mainstream media don’t seem to take the slightest notice,

The BOM forecast:

Tropical Pacific continues to warm; El Niño likely in 2014

Issued on Tuesday 6 May 2014

The tropical Pacific Ocean has warmed steadily in recent months, with large warm anomalies in the ocean sub-surface (5-day values up to +6 °C) and increasingly warm sea surface temperatures. Climate models surveyed by the Bureau suggest El Niño development is possible as early as July. These factors indicate that while El Niño in 2014 cannot be guaranteed, the likelihood of an event developing remains at least 70% and we are at El Niño ALERT level.

ALERT level?

9-05-2014 elninoalert

And what the heck does that mean?

El Niño likely in 2014

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Tracker status is at El Niño ALERT level, meaning that there is at least a 70% chance of an El Niño occurring in 2014. Current observations and model guidance indicate an El Niño is likely to develop by spring, with some models indicating a transition to El Niño as early as July.

El Niño conditions generally result in below average winter/spring rainfall over southern and inland eastern Australia, while southern Australia typically experiences warmer days.

So what? Well the editorial in the latest edition of Scientific American puts it this way:

It now seems that the world will have a chance to rehearse for the future as early as the end of this year. A major El Niño is massing in the Pacific Ocean and is likely to cause cyclones, tornadoes, droughts, floods and sea level changes across the world.

Many leading scientists say the approaching El Niño looks similar in magnitude to the huge one that started in 1997 and went on to kill tens of thousands of people and cause tens of billions of dollars of damage. But you won’t hear that sort of warning from official forecasters. They agree that an El Niño is likely, but are saying little about its potential strength.

Why is that? One of the key reasons for the devastation of 1997 was excess caution among forecasters. A major UN study published in 2000 revealed that for forecasters, an incorrect prediction is more embarrassing than no prediction at all. We may be seeing the same failings today.

One factor that leads to skepticism about forecasts (and, therefore, to inaction following the release of an El Niño forecast) is related to contradictory signals. For example, it is difficult for most decision makers to believe forecasters that a drought will be coming, if the country is in the midst of a rainy period, or vice versa.

As another example, in the midst of a good commercial fishing season, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to convince fishermen and fishmeal processing plant owners that fish catches will drop drastically some months in the future because an El Niño episode might be emerging.

Making such projections in the absence of visible signs of change is as risky for the forecasters as it is for users to take such projections seriously enough to act on them.

In many countries forecasters fear that they will have to bear considerable personal responsibility for incorrect actions that decision makers might take if the forecasts are off the mark and disaster ensues. From the perspective of a forecaster, it may be safer in many instances to avoid making assertive forecasts that might prove to be controversial later. This brings to mind the adage, “take a position, take a risk,” and most forecasters try to avoid taking such risks with their jobs.

Perhaps it is that fear of being wrong that explains the low-key way in which the BOM has released its latest forecast. We do have, after-all, a government that takes little notice of its predictions about global warming.

So what is the past record?

9-05-2014 ensolegend

9-05-2014 ensorecordetracker

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