EL NIÑO WATCH
Very few typhoons have passed through the populated islands of the CNMI over the past decade. Residents have been blessed with a Pacific Ocean dominated by neutral conditions, and the occasional La Niña, which can suppress the formation of tropical cyclones in areas that lead them to the Marianas. Unfortunately that trend may come to an end this year. There is growing confidence that we will have El Niño conditions, which has the exact opposite effect on typhoons: it increases our chances of being in their path.
How does this work? Over the past couple of months, sea surface temperatures and upper-ocean heat content have become increasingly anomalous in the eastern and central Pacific. The water has warmed, and some of the oceanic and atmospheric patterns in the tropical Pacific that we are accustomed to have been disrupted. This has led to some agreement among numerical models that we will see El Niño develop over the summer and fall of 2014.
What does this mean for the CNMI? First and foremost, conditions that are favorable for typhoon development will persist in the central and western-north Pacific. We have a warm bathtub that can fuel tropical cyclone development, and this development can occur to the east of where typhoons usually develop. This means that rather than forming near the Marianas and proceeding west toward the Philippines, tropical storms may form closer to the Marshall Islands and proceed west through the Marianas. Keep an eye out for this development from May through December.
In addition to typhoon activity, El Niño events are often the precursor to abnormally dry conditions in the year following the episode. Stay informed! You can follow the detailed evolution of El Niño conditions on NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center website, or simply stop by the Division of Coastal Resources Management Office on Saipan and ask to talk to someone about climate and coastal hazards. (BECQ)