New type of El Nino could mean more hurricanes make landfall

July 2, 2009
The 2008 hurricane season was one of the most active on record. In this image, taken on August 28, 2008, three storms can be seen in various stages: Fay, Gustav and Hannah. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

El Niño years typically result in fewer hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean. But a new study suggests that the form of El Niño may be changing potentially causing not only a greater number of hurricanes than in average years, but also a greater chance of hurricanes making landfall, according to climatologists at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The study appears in the July 3, 2009, edition of the journal Science.

"Normally, El Niño results in diminished hurricanes in the Atlantic, but this new type is resulting in a greater number of hurricanes with greater frequency and more potential to make landfall," said Peter Webster, professor at Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

That's because this new type of El Niño, known as El Niño Modoki (from the Japanese meaning "similar, but different"), forms in the Central Pacific, rather than the Eastern Pacific as the typical El Niño event does. Warming in the Central Pacific is associated with a higher storm frequency and a greater potential for making landfall along the Gulf coast and the coast of Central America.

Even though the oceanic circulation pattern of warm water known as El Niño forms in the Pacific, it affects the circulation patterns across the globe, changing the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic. This regular type of El Niño (from the Spanish meaning "little boy" or "Christ child") is more difficult to forecast, with predictions of the December circulation pattern not coming until May. At first glance, that may seem like plenty of time. However, the summer before El Niño occurs, the storm patterns change, meaning that predictions of El Niño come only one month before the start of season in June. But El Niño Modoki follows a different prediction pattern.

"This new type of El Niño is more predictable," said Webster. "We're not sure why, but this could mean that we get greater warning of hurricanes, probably by a number of months."

As to why the form of El Niño is changing to El Niño Modoki, that's not entirely clear yet, said Webster.

"This could be part of a natural oscillation of El Niño," he said. "Or it could be El Niño's response to a warming atmosphere. There are hints that the trade winds of the Pacific have become weaker with time and this may lead to the warming occurring further to the west. We need more data before we know for sure."

In the study, Webster, along with Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Chair Judy Curry and research scientist Hye-Mi Kim used satellite data along with historical tropical records and climate models.

The research team is currently looking at La Niña, the cooling of the surface waters in the Eastern and Central Pacific.

"In the past, La Nina has been associated with a greater than average number of North Atlantic hurricanes and La Nina seems to be changing its structure as well," said Webster. "We're vitally interested in understanding why El Niño-La Niña has changed. To determine this we need to run a series of numerical experiments with climate models."

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

Explore further: Forecasters say El Nino may be developing

Related Stories

Forecasters say El Nino may be developing

June 8, 2009

(AP) -- A new El Nino could be approaching. Sea-surface temperatures have been warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean, suggesting the potential for the development of the El Nino climate phenomenon this summer, according ...

El Nino may calm 2006 hurricane season

September 7, 2006

Hurricane forecasters say a weather phenomenon called El Nino may make the rest of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season quieter than predicted.

El Nino To Affect Weather In Colorado And Western U.S.

December 1, 2006

Colorado's late fall snowstorms could disappear by mid-December due to the influence of an El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, said Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado at Boulder and National Oceanic and Atmospheric ...

Warm temps, El Nino delay lakes' freezing

January 12, 2007

A strong El Nino and warmer temperatures pushed back lake freeze dates for the Northeast and Midwest areas of the United States, a water scientist said.

U.N. meteorologist predicts cooler summer

April 4, 2008

A U.N. meteorologist says the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific will likely mean slightly lower temperatures across the world this year.

El Nino may, or may not, soak California

December 15, 2006

El Nino, the periodic warming of Pacific waters, puzzles meteorologists who said they don't know whether it will bring needed rain to Southern California.

Recommended for you

Mountain glaciers shrinking across the West

October 22, 2017

Until recently, glaciers in the United States have been measured in two ways: placing stakes in the snow, as federal scientists have done each year since 1957 at South Cascade Glacier in Washington state; or tracking glacier ...

Carbon coating gives biochar its garden-greening power

October 20, 2017

For more than 100 years, biochar, a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance made from oxygen-deprived plant or other organic matter, has both delighted and puzzled scientists. As a soil additive, biochar can store carbon and ...

Cool roofs have water saving benefits too

October 20, 2017

The energy and climate benefits of cool roofs have been well established: By reflecting rather than absorbing the sun's energy, light-colored roofs keep buildings, cities, and even the entire planet cooler. Now a new study ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 03, 2009
Once upon a time there was a Big Bad Troll.......
1 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2009
1 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2009
Modoki is almost exactly, similar but different, a solecism.
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 03, 2009
Run those models!!!! but it's still: garbage in, garbage out.

Headline could have been just as accurate by reading: New type of El Nino could mean less hurricanes make landfall

This is Chicken Licken and Henny Penny journalism.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2009
This is ridiculous. Doesn't "similar" imply a difference? Another thing: what's with the mixing of languages? What's next? Wiki Wiki El Nino Modoki au poivre mit Hackfleisch?
5 / 5 (1) Jul 04, 2009
Good grief. This article sets forth a testable hypothesis. That is what science is supposed to do. They say they are going to make a prediction and then we will be able to see if it is right. This is how science is supposed to be done. Make a prediction. Test it. If it is right, test it again, and again, and again. If it is wrong discard it and move on. Who cares what they call it? Doesn't anyone reading this have a science background? They do not accuse AGW. They are not telling anyone to run for their lives. They are simply making a prediction and we get to see it either work or not. Give it a rest!
1 / 5 (5) Jul 04, 2009
Test it. If it is right, test it again, and again, and again. If it is wrong discard it and move on.

Or, do as the IPCC etc does with AGW, when it's shown to be wrong, ignore the evidence and attack the messenger? Blow it out of all proportion with MSM headlines when new and never admit when it's wrong, just let it slide.
not rated yet Jul 04, 2009
Mikiwud: I was discussing this particular article. It has nothing to do with IPCC and AGW. Are you so fixated that you are not able to look objectively at anything that has the word "climate" in it?"
not rated yet Jul 05, 2009
FWIW, this naming protocol has a splendid historical precedent: Measles vs German Measles...

And, it is good Science: "Look, we reckon there's a pattern emerging, with ElNinos which start in Central Pacific spawning bigger storms than the Eastern Pacific variety."

Now they've made their prediction, lots of people will dig through old logs, check historical records etc. Only takes one proven no-show to falsify the prediction as it stands. Of course, bets are off if year was screwy due volcano ash etc..
1 / 5 (3) Jul 05, 2009
Climate scientists branded Winter 2008 as the coldest winter of the 21st century. We also had worse storms and hurricances in the same year. Correlation?

Why then would we want to reduce CO2 emissions if we have the resources to warm the atmosphere and keep it relatively stable?

Oh, wait! We had increases in CO2 levels ppm but the climate still cooled! Never mind... :)
1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2009
Perhaps it is time to give the climatologists another hint... it's the sun, we all remember that bright thing with very few spots on it recently... yah, the perturbations collectively between it, us and our nearest neighbors are in cycles and say what was that about worming and cooling trends, oh yah another cycle of something "scientist" can not fathom. I guess too many have remained oblivious to the two-nonillion kilogram (that's 2 x 10 to the 30th kilogram) bright thing seen during the day every day...

Yes the scientific method is to come up with a hypothesis and then try to prove it. The trick is to articulate it a bloody hypothesis and NOT something one destroys an economy over...
not rated yet Jul 08, 2009
The 2008 season was not out of the ordinary for the Atlantic basin.

Not in the least.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.