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Fact Checking El Niño Part Dos


Mountain’s meteorologist breaks down the news from the past few weeks, as well as a SNL skit from 1997.

Here at Mountain, we take El Niño news seriously. Which is why we’ve been following breaking stories about it like weather paparazzi. We even enlisted our own ski country meteorologist, Nick Barlow, a guide at Powder Addiction Cat Skiing and lead forecaster at Barlometer.com, to help. Every couple weeks, Barlow weighs in on Niño-focused stories, cutting through the bullshit for your benefit.

Utaaah? Or Utaargh? OpenSnow, October 5, 2015

Synopsis: The Blob, a chunk of cooling north Pacific water that has the potential to stymie the effects of the current El Niño, may be cooling quickly enough to disappear by ski season.

Barlow’s Take: This is good analysis, but I’d like to see a few more sources as evidence to support the claim. True, the Blob is cooling, though what will follow is still uncertain. It could migrate to a more traditional location off the coast of Alaska/Canada. If it does, it could open the door to the Sierra to receive a healthy dose of snow from an amplified southern stream (due to El Niño). But could is the operative word (which I’m getting kind of sick of repeating). Also, the Blob isn’t the only factor playing into what happens with snowfall. It’s how it and El Niño play off each other, and which conditions will form a consistent pattern. The answer may be an easy pattern won’t develop. All I can say is that El Niño is certain, and a strong event continues to be likely.

No Winter Repeat For New EnglandBangor Daily News, September 22, 2015

Synopsis: Bangor, Maine, Meteorologist Charlie Lopresti says there’s no way 2015/16 will be as harsh as the previous two winters in Northern New England.

Barlow’s Take: First off, this guy is definitely not a skier (because he’s realistic about snow). Truth: The East Coast has had massive dumps in both El Niño and non-El Nino years. But Lopresti should also consult conditions in the Atlantic (not just water temperatures), because winter weather in New England is often driven by conditions in the Northern Atlantic. But he saves face by admitting that his intention is only to “give folks a starting point of what to expect” and have them take it “one 7-day forecast at a time” (props, fellow forecaster).

Upper Midwest to Get 50 percent Skunked This Winter, OpenSnow, September 22, 2015

Synopsis: Another story stating the obvious, that when it comes to precipitation during an El Niño year, it’s “all over the place.” Both the driest and second wettest Upper Midwest winters have occurred during strong El Niños. So there is very little correlation between it simply being an El Niño year and what kind of snow we should see.

Barlow’s Take: OpenSnow does some good analysis here—mainly by correctly interpreting the weather maps. Most people are reporting that “the seasonal forecasts… put the Upper Midwest with at least a 50 percent chance of an above average winter,” while failing to mention the other two categories that also add up to 50 percent. If there’s a 50-percent chance of above average temperatures, then there’s also a 50-percent chance of either average or below-average temperatures. The OpenSnow forecaster, on the other hand, predicts the general trend for “typical” El Niño years, drier and warmer over then northern tier, which is also supported by seasonal models.

Journalists Attribute Everything Bad to “The Nino”New Scientist, October 7, 2015

Synopsis: Re-read the headline.

Barlow’s Take: Oh, man, this is a doozy. It’s precisely the type of over-hyped, out of context journalism that scares and confuses people. It’s the classic example of attributing El Niño to everything bad that is happening around the world. Click-bait for the web surfer, and wrongly induced global paranoia.

The article starts out okay, mentioning the highly active tropical Pacific this season. But then, it states, “The world is preparing for a massive El Niño that could be the strongest since 1998…an event that led to the deaths of an estimated 20,000 people.” It then says that, “In sub-Saharan Africa, the International Federation of the Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal as extreme flooding is predicted to worsen food shortages.”

And then, “This week, Kenya issued an alert ahead of expected rains – some areas there are preparing by improving drainage systems. Chile and Peru are likely to be hit hard and are also making preparations.”

For all of these claims, can someone say “reaching?” There are floods, droughts and famine worldwide every year, regardless of the El Niño phenomenon. And the 97/98 El Niño did not directly lead to the deaths and financial cost around the world. Weather events did. El Niño influences the weather, it does not cause specific storms or events. I wonder how many people annually die on average due to the weather globally? And what that costs? I’m sure it’s thousands—and billions…

The story then goes on to say that, “Dengue is exacerbated by warmer temperatures and has been directly linked to El Niño in other parts of Asia.” But the “direct link” makes no mention of the second strongest El Niño, or any other events. It’s a medical story that for some reason reaches towards a correlation between dengue and the atmosphere? Where is the meteorologist?

Also from the story: “This month, El Niño pushed temperatures up to near-record levels in eastern Australia.”

False. Cause and effect confusion.

And finally, this: “The rains are yet to hit Africa and South America; marine impacts such as coral bleaching are expected to begin around December.”

Forecasting coral bleaching based on rainfall that doesn’t exist yet? Please. If you want a better understanding of El Niño’s seasonal effects, go to meted.ucar.edu, and find the “ENSO COMET” module. The 45-minute “course” presents baseline understanding of the phenomenon for weather enthusiasts, and also serves as a good refresher for professionals.

Chris Farley’s El Nino Almost Spot-on in SNL Skit (But Not)Saturday Night Live, Season 23, 1997

Synopsis: In this classic SNL skit, El Niño (the late Chris Farley) dominates any and all tropical storms.

Barlow’s Take: Although the beloved Chris Farley seems a better fit to play the role of “The Blob,” he certainly shines in this educational, late-night melodrama. His sweaty, emotionally-driven portrayal of “The Niño” shall not be matched in our lifetime. Though, like the impending Godzilla El Niño upon us this winter, trouble also looms in the form of expert meteorologist, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Farley’s character grasps the spotlight from the opening curtain, yet emerges with perhaps too much vigor, too early in the season to sustain a winter’s-worth of mountain snowfall. Time will tell if other anomalous pools of water in the Pacific, or Ric Flair himself, put “the sleeper hold to El Niño” this winter.

See our original El Niño report, on where you should place your bets for snowfall this season, along with our first installment of Fact Checking El Niño.

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