Temperatures in a key area of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru rose to 5.4 degrees above average for the week of Nov. 11, exceeding the highest comparable reading for the most powerful El Niño on record, in 1997.
LOS ANGELES — A key location of the Pacific Ocean is now hotter than recorded in at least 25 years, surpassing the temperatures during the record 1997 El Niño.
Some scientists say their measurements show that this year’s El Niño could be among the most powerful on record — and even toppling the 1997 event from its pedestal.
“This thing is still growing and it’s definitely warmer than it was in 1997,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. As far as the temperature readings go, “It’s now bypassed the previous champ of the modern satellite era: the 1997 El Niño has just been toppled by 2015.”
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at Stanford University, called the temperature reading significant. It is the highest such weekly temperature above the average in 25 years of modern record keeping in this key region of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru.
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“This is a very impressive number,” Swain said, adding that data suggest that this El Niño is still warming up. “It does look like it’s possible that there’s still additional warming” to come.
“We’re definitely in the top tier of El Niño events,” Swain said.
Temperatures in this key area of the Pacific Ocean rose to 5.4 degrees above average for the week of Nov. 11. That exceeds the highest comparable reading for the most powerful El Niño on record, when temperatures rose 5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average the week of Thanksgiving in 1997.
The 5.4 degree recording above the average temperature is the highest such number since 1990 in this area of the Pacific Ocean, according to the National Weather Service.
El Niño is a weather phenomenon involving a section of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru that warms up, causing alterations in the atmosphere that can cause dramatic changes in weather patterns globally.
For the United States, El Niño can shift the winter track of storms that normally keeps the jungles of southern Mexico and Central America wet and move them over California and the southern United States. The northern United States, like the Midwest and Northeast, typically see milder winters during El Niño.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has already forecast a higher chance of a wet winter for almost all of California and the southern United States.
The center’s deputy director, Mike Halpert, cautioned against reading too much into the record-breaking weekly temperature data. This El Niño has so far been underperforming in other respects involving changes in the atmosphere important to the winter climate forecast for California, he said.
Still, he said, “it’s not too late for things to develop.”