Florida may see an El Nino in the summer of 2014

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It has long be know that the large scale warming and cooling of the central and east-central equatorial Pacific waters has a large impact on global weather.  This warming and cooling goes by the names El Nino and La Nina respectively (see photo courtesy NASA) and flip flops between phases periodically.  When the water is neither warm or cool we call it a neutral phase.

El Nino (top picture) and La Nina (bottom picture)

We have been in a neutral phase all during our hurricane season.  Tropical activity has been light mostly because of dry air over the Atlantic and high wind shears.  The African dust aloft, called the Saharan Air Layer, has been a major inhibitor of tropical development by stabilizing the air in tropical cyclone breeding grounds.

Hurricanes in an El Nino year v.s. La Nina year

Dr. James O'Brien of Florida State University has shown that an El Nino can have a similar effect on cyclone activity by creating a hostile atmosphere for growing tropical systems.  In published research he has shown that Florida sees fewer storms in El Nino years than in La Nina years or even in neutral years.  In the graph taken from his paper you can clearly see the relationship.

The Climate Prediction Center is the government agency tasked with predicting the occurrences of El Nino and La Nina. They will be the first to tell you that it is a difficult science with great uncertainties in the forecasting. In their latest alert they announced the neutral conditions persist and near average sea surface temperatures and noted.  They predict that a neutral condition will persist into the summer of 2014.  That is the prediction for now anyway.  They also note that evidence is mounting and probabilities are growing for warm conditions to return by spring/summer of 2014.  If that were to be the case it is possible that it could have a negative impact on the number of 2014 Atlantic hurricanes that form. 

While it is much too early for predictions it is something to note and follow this winter and updates will be provided as the oceans temperatures evolve.

John Scalzi