Monday, 21 September 2015

The 2015 El Niño and some super-hype from a couple of niños in the Grauniad

I've taken an unannounced break from blogging; the reasons I won't bore you with. I've decided to restart with a post about the current El Niño. First an update of the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI).

SOI 1990 - Aug 2015 (Source data BOM)        Click to enlarge
As you can see, the index has dropped from a high in 2010/11 into a strong El Niño (data to Aug 2015). However, there's some doubt as to the likely duration and strength. A couple of people are quite certain, however, as in this Guardian article. Please read it - it's either going to make you laugh (as I did) or cry, or both.
El Niño: a global weather event that may save California — and destroy the tropics 
The last time a really large El Niño occurred was during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter of 1997-98. Droughts, floods and outbreaks of infectious diseases plagued villages across Africa. Floods inundated Peru. Megafires rampaged through Indonesia. Fisheries collapsed off the coast of South America. Crops failed across much of the tropics and global food prices rose. Civil conflicts broke out in Africa and Asia.
Today, in all likelihood, we stand about a month away from another major El Niño. Current state-of-the-art forecasts tell us that an event similar to 1997-98 is likely to return this winter. Our own research on the human toll of El Niño suggests that households in the tropics will begin to feel the heat as early as September.
Do those linked forecasts tell us "that an event similar to 1997-98 is likely to return this winter"? No they don't - they don't mention 1997-98 anywhere, because they're forecasts, which are predicting a strong El Niño. The authors are hyping it up - to forecast doom and gloom, death and destruction, floods, drought and pestilence (I added in the pestilence myself - what's sauce for the goose....), and "the destruction of the tropics" apparently. Last time I heard, the tropics were still there after the 1997-8 El Niño, though a little frayed round the edges in one or two places.

Who are the authors of this apocalyptic treatise? They are Kyle Meng, who is "assistant professor in the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and in the Department of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.", and Solomon Hsiang is "associate professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He coauthored Economic Risks of Climate Change (just published) the analysis behind the Risky Business report by Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson & Thomas Steyer.".

Not climate scientists, nor meteorologists, but economists. Economists who actually understand less about El Niño and its effects and consequences than I do. Not only that, they manage to contradict themselves in their lurid and doom-laden article. Read it and spot the contradictions for yourself. An El Niño creates weather and climate disparities in the Pacific both east-west and north-south, and not just in the tropics, as these two economists-with-an-agenda would have us believe. Their linked forecasts (do they want us to actually read them? I did, most won't) make those disparities in temperature and precipitation quite clear.

Try this quote for a schoolboy howler "The fundamental physics of El Niño and its unequal effects have been around as long as civilization.". Really? and I, in my ignorance thought that the causes and effects were only recognised in the late 20th. century, and only begun to be fully understood as a result of the intensive recording and study of the 1997-8 event. You really are a couple of niños (Spanish for kids, children) aren't you? Stick to economics, guys, you may even be able to make a living out of it.

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