Right Opinion

Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature Implications

Joe Bastardi · May 25, 2018

Sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic are a study in extremes. We have a patch of very warm water from off the East Coast to near 30°W, but most of the Atlantic is now below average, with cooler temperatures being just as impressive as the warmth. This is the coldest look to the Atlantic Basin in many years and has implications. We are forecasting a weaker main development region this year, but fear in-close development because of the feedback inherent in such warm water near the shores.

Our detailed forecast is here.

No matter what the cause, we have to deal with the reality of the conditions. Of course, the attribution to humans is always showing up in weather missives. We all know how I feel about that, so there’s no need to rehash it. In reality, humans are playing a role in urban heat islands (UHI), which in turn plays a role in those cities’ conditions. I was thinking about this on Monday after looking at some fascinating information on how much more the UHI effect is adding to warmth around cities, which are expanding. That has to change upward motion patterns, leading to enhancements in some places and decreases in other. Given the buoyancy of the air, attribution to humans for whatever the reason in smaller-scale effects has to be acknowledged. That then feeds into the larger picture until the large picture and the macro drivers can overwhelm the event. That is understood. So direct attribution to such things as the UHI effect is a given.

Remember, it is not only the actual temperature but the changes in the temperature, gradients, and advection of gradients that are huge. But air is very quick to respond and resolve such events. The oceans, though, are a different story, as they are very slow to change. And with 99.9% of the thermal energy of the planet in the oceans, and obviously where it’s warmest in the tropics skewing the input, it becomes very hard to see how attribution to anything but large-scale macro drivers on the order of decades or centuries can be responsible. Basically, the ocean pushes the air around, but what is pushing the ocean around?

The temperature gradient in the Atlantic is an extreme event. I would venture to say this is the greatest extreme in the satellite era.

I can’t find anything like this. But it seems that such an event has to be traced back to slow-to-change macro events of the ocean and what Bill Gray opined on in his paper.

If you wish to cherry-pick cold, you have plenty of ammo. If you wish to cherry-pick warm, you do too. But my point here is twofold. 1) We have to deal with this and its implications, and we do in our hurricane forecast. 2) Attribution to humans for such extreme events in the ocean is a much harder case to make given the very nature of the ocean. The argument that the air is pushing around the ocean, when in this hurricane season you are likely to see a visible response in the season of the ocean pushing around the pattern (you already are, with the attempt at early season development), is but one example, But what is pushing around the ocean? Is it the sun? Is it the entire system? Is it man? Or is it some combination of the total picture, where the “weighting” is the hardest part?

Keep this in mind when you look at that picture: The reason this is so very important is that we must deal with it. When we look at it, we naturally are curious as to why it is the way it is. We are curious about the details. The Atlantic Basin as a whole is the coolest since 1994.

We must think about the implication not only on temperatures but pressure patterns and feedback. When considering how slow Neptune (the “God of the Oceans”) is to change, the old adage “The wheels of the gods grind slowly but fine” comes to mind. We can marvel at what we see and try to figure it out, but chances are that what you see is a product of changes that are as deep as the ocean itself and not likely to be anything humans have done. And yet a stalled or blocked hurricane over very warm water that is a result of nature may get blamed on humans.


It’s up to you to figure out what you wish to believe. On this date, though, the marvel of the extremes — likely due to the endgame of the warm AMO and the resultant action and reaction — has produced a truly awesome look. And we should be grateful we can see it, opine on it and then think about what it may mean going forward

That is the glory of weather and a chance to ponder over it.


Joe Bastardi, a pioneer in extreme weather and long-range forecasting, is a contributor to The Patriot Post on environmental issues. He is the author of “The Climate Chronicle: Inconvenient Revelations You Won’t Hear From Al Gore — and Others.”

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