There is a growing realization today that the world’s weather is inextricably linked: weather is global. And the weather story of the planet begins in the world’s biggest ocean, the Pacific.
The oceans have been acting weird lately. While some sea creatures have boomed (octopuses), others have busted (humpback whales), and yet others literally melted into goo (starfish). Whether the causes are El Niño or the “Blob” or ultimately climate change, these events point to just how interconnected and poorly understood the ocean ecosystem is—how little of it observable by humans. A marine biologist who studies whales once likened finding a beached one to finding a specimen of a “space alien.” The sea is dark and full of mysteries.
It’s been a wild six months for megastorms. In October 2015, Hurricane Patricia became the most powerful ever measured, with winds topping 200 mph before being downgraded near the coast of Mexico. In February 2016, there was Winston, the most potent cyclone recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, which made landfall on Fiji. Now meet Fantala, the strongest storm measured over the Indian Ocean.
Is it the Godzilla El Niño or harbinger of a future hell? Weird, deadly weather has been sweeping the country for the past week, from tornadoes and blizzards in the Southwest, to historic flooding in the corn belt. If one thing’s certain, it’s that the hottest, climatically wackiest year on record is going out with a bang.
For the second time in just two months, an extremely rare venomous sea snake has made a surprise appearance on Southern California’s coastline, suggesting that the abnormally warm temperatures of the local waters are attracting species that would have once given the area a miss.
We already knew the Godzilla Cthulhu Sauron El Niño of 2015 was gonna be bad. But exactly how bad are we talking? According to the World Meteorological Organization, this year’s El Niño is among the three strongest in the past 70 years, and it may become the worst one ever recorded.
This year’s winter “will definitely not be normal,” NASA has said. It is, however, awfully familiar.
It’s not just the sea surface heights, like those above, that look alike—NOAA and NASA both confirm that they’re also seeing wind patterns and water temperatures that look eerily similar to the ‘97 conditions.