Over the past month, changes in weather patterns have become apparent due to the atmospheric response caused by the El Niño of 2023, as the warmer-than-average tropical Pacific sea surface influences the region. This shift in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean is especially impacting the southern regions of the United States.
El Niño Conditions and Projections
This year, the tropical Pacific ocean has warmed quickly, progressing from a La Niña phase to El Niño conditions, marked by a temperature rise of 0.5°C above the surface's long-term average. The current temperature anomaly has exceeded the required threshold, reaching 0.8°C above the average, while temperatures are expected to go higher.
The likelihood of El Niño persisting through the winter is significant. This is based on both current climate model predictions and observed conditions in the tropical Pacific. The odds of the event becoming strong at its peak are estimated at 56%, and chances of at least a moderate event are about 84%.
Atmospheric Changes and Their Global Impact
El Niño's impact on the atmosphere results from changes in the Walker circulation, an atmospheric pattern over the equatorial Pacific. El Niño's warmer-than-average surface water alters this circulation by bringing more rainfall and convection to the central and eastern Pacific. This causes the trade winds to weaken, which further warms the surface, allowing warmer water to move eastward and reinforcing the El Niño sea surface temperature pattern. This change in the Walker circulation has been observed over the past month, contributing to the development of the current El Niño conditions1.
As El Niño heats the atmosphere above the central and eastern tropical Pacific, it leads to a stronger Hadley circulation and changes to the jet streams. During an El Niño winter, an extended North Pacific jet stream tends to bring more storms across the southern tier of the U.S. and warmer air to the northern half of North America1.
Impact on Southern California and Malibu
These shifts in global atmospheric circulation have particular impacts on Southern California and Malibu. Increased rainfall and warmer temperatures are often linked to El Niño years, a trend seen throughout history. Winter is when these impacts are most evident and can result in more storms and greater flood risks. This is particularly concerning for coastal areas such as Malibu, where steep cliffs and many properties leave it vulnerable.
Southern California and Malibu are start to feel the effects of climate change. Warmer ocean temperatures are causing potential issues for marine life and coastal regions. Marine ecosystems could see distribution of species and declines in health due to changes in temperature. Increased coastal erosion and higher sea levels are a product of the temperature rise, also putting Southern California and Malibu in danger.
While the potential impacts of the 2023 El Niño are still unfolding, it is clear that this climatic event will significantly influence the weather and ocean conditions in Southern California and Malibu. Ongoing monitoring and forecasting efforts will provide more clarity on the precise impacts of this El Niño event in the coming months.
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