Oh, dear God. Don’t turn around. No, seriously, it’s right behind you. This menacing creature can smell fear and has a thirst for blood. I don’t mean to alarm you, but forecasters predict that a Godzilla El Niño will rise up from the ocean and destroy everything you know and love this winter. Goodbye, friends.
Something must have gotten lost in translation. I mean, it can’t be that bad, right? The news media will calm us down!
Oh. Oh no.
[thunk, thunk, thunk]
It’s no secret that we’re seeing abnormal warming of the equatorial waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean. It’s been in the news for months now. This occasional warm-up, known as El Niño, can alter weather patterns around the world by messing with the jet stream and allowing for the formation of powerful tropical cyclones in the basin.
The warming event comes about when trade winds over the equatorial Pacific calm or even shift direction, allowing warm water to pool up near the northwestern coast of South America in waters that are normally pretty cool. The stronger the warming event, the more effects the El Niño can have on global weather patterns, especially in the southern half of the United States—including California—where the shift in the subtropical jet stream can allow for heavy precipitation and cooler temperatures to persist through the winter.
In order for this abnormal warming to be declared an El Niño, the average temperature anomaly in a certain part of the Pacific Ocean—usually the Niño 3.4 region—has to be +0.5°C for at least five consecutive three-month periods. A small shift in water temperature doesn’t sound like much, but it has the same effect on the environment as a fever has on our body.
This morning’s update is “the strongest forecast NOAA has issued so far this year,” according to the Capital Weather Gang. The agency expects that temperature anomalies will peak late this fall or early this winter, coming in at +1.5°C or greater at their warmest. Average water temperatures in that Niño 3.4 region were 1.9°C warmer than normal as of Monday’s weekly update, and this newest forecast indicates that water temperatures will likely continue at this pace through early next year.
Now, it wouldn’t be a news story if the media didn’t hype the ever-loving hell out of it. From the creators of Derechocalypse 2013 and Polar Vortex Panic of 2014 comes the latest creature straight from the newsroom war chest: Godzilla El Niño of 2015.
This quote, which the media will run with until the merciful blow of a comet finally does us all in, was uttered by Bill Patzert, a NASA climatologist, whom I hope immediately regretted saying that to a reporter.
“This definitely has the potential of being the Godzilla El Niño,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.
We were so close—so close!—to seeing the media report on a significant natural phenomenon without resorting to cutesy buzzwords or over-the-top hype, and then in one eleven-word quote, a strong El Niño turned into freakin’ Godzilla.
We’ll get there one day.