December #Climate Forecast Discussion for Jan-Mar through Apr-Jun 2021 — IRI

From the International Research Institute for Climate and Society:

The SST forecast is for La Nina conditions to continue through boreal winter, weakening through the spring and early summer. The eastern Indian Ocean is presently warm but is forecast to relax towards climatological temperatures in the spring.

Precipitation forecasts for the coming season are consistent with expected La Niña teleconnections: In Jan-Mar, strongly enhanced probabilities of below normal precipitation are forecast for northwest Mexico and the Southern US, and moderately enhanced probabilities of below normal precipitation are forecast in Southwest Asia. The probabilities in Mexico, the US, and southwest Asia all persist through Apr-Jun; In Apr-Jun enhanced probabilities of below normal precipitation are forecast for Chile and southern India.

Enhanced probabilities of above normal precipitation are forecast for northern South America and Central America, the Philippines, parts of the Maritime Continent, northwest US, and western Australia. Probabilities of above normal precipitation persist in northern South America through Feb-Apr and in the Philippines through Apr-Jun. In Apr-Jun an enhanced probability of above normal precipitation is forecast to northeast India and southeast Asia.

A strongly enhanced probability of above normal temperatures accompanies the probability of below normal precipitation in the Southwest United States from Jan-Mar through Apr-Jun. In Jan-Mar there is also an enhanced probability of above normal temperatures in central Russia.

An enhanced probability of below normal temperatures is forecast for the U.S. Midwest for Jan-Mar, for Alaska, western Canada, Greenland, and northern South America from Jan-Mar to Mar-May.

December 2020 La Niña update: walking in a La Niña winter wonderland — @NOAAClimate

From (Tom Di Liberto):

La Niña continued to gain strength in November as we approach the normal peak for these events in the Northern Hemisphere winter—usually November–January. Forecasters estimate at least a 95% chance that La Niña will last through the winter, with a potential transition to ENSO-Neutral during spring 2021 (~50% chance).

La Niña sticks out like a sore thumb when taking a gander at a map of sea surface temperature anomalies (the difference from the long-term average) over the Pacific Ocean. The Niño3.4 region of the tropical Pacific (the area we look at for determining ENSO status) was much cooler than the La Niña threshold of -0.5°C, at -1.4°C below average for November according to the ERSSTv5 dataset. In fact, the Niño3.4 region surface temperature anomaly has been lower than -1.0°C for the last two months, and the November anomaly was the seventh lowest of all Novembers going back to 1950.

November 2020 sea surface temperature departure from the 1981-2010 average. Cool water at the equator in the Pacific represents La Niña, while waters elsewhere are warmer than average. Image from Data Snapshots on

In the Tropical Pacific Ocean Lane, the Ocean-Atmosphere is glistening
As always, if we want to see if this La Niña is humming along, we’ll need to take stock of how well our oceans and atmosphere are working together. During La Niña, the expectation is that there will be less rain than average over the central Tropical Pacific Ocean and more rain over the Maritime Continent in Indonesia and the Philippines. This pattern can be seen in looking at changes in the amount of radiation leaving Earth into outer space, which can be detected by satellites.

Clear skies let outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) escape into space. But clouds act like a bouncer, blocking the energy from entering Club Outer Space and telling it to go home. Less OLR reaching the satellite means more clouds and more rain. More OLR means the opposite, sunnier skies and less rain. During November, we saw less rain over the Date Line, but the Maritime Continent rainfall was largely near average (we aren’t sure why, but the expected enhanced rainfall has had trouble sticking around during this event).

Outgoing long-wave radiation anomaly from November 9 – December 4, 2020. Regions with more clouds and rain than average are shown in blue; areas with fewer clouds and less rain are shown in brown. image from CPC data.

Another key signal to how well La Niña is doing lies in the wind. ENSO events disrupt the Walker Circulation, the normal atmospheric wind pattern that blows across the tropics.

La Niñas tend to rev up the existing Walker Circulation. The trade winds, which blow east to west across the Pacific Ocean, blow a little harder, while winds higher up in the atmosphere blow to the east a little bit harder. During November, that is exactly what happened. (For more information on how this is part of a feedback mechanism that gets La Niña going, check out Michelle’s recent post.)

Simply put, this is my long way of saying that this La Niña is looking like a La Niña.

In the Pacific meadow, we can build a forecast
The big question now is how long this La Niña will last. And while we’ve looked a lot at the atmosphere and the ocean surface, to answer that question it’s useful to take a look under the surface of the Tropical Pacific Ocean.

Difference from average (1981-2010) temperatures in the upper 300 meters (980 feet) of the tropical Pacific Ocean for the 5-day period centered on December 4, 2020. The vertical axis is depth below the surface (meters) and the horizontal axis is longitude, from the western to eastern tropical Pacific. This cross-section is right along the equator. figure from CPC data.

There you’ll find plenty of cooler-than-average water across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. This fount of coolness is (1) a sign of the atmospheric/ocean coupling that I described above and (2) plenty big and strong enough to provide a source for cooler than average water at the surface over the next several months. Although, it is important to note that this fount of cooler than average anomalies in the subsurface ocean has weakened slightly over the last month compared to October.

That small weakening might be a harbinger for the future of this event. Most of the computer models we use as well as the forecasters predict La Niña to last through winter (greater than a 95% chance). But, forecasters do not expect much more strengthening, with the event peaking between -1.0°C to -1.5°C for the seasonal average Niño3.4 surface temperature anomaly (often referred to as “moderate”). After which, the forecast is for La Niña to weaken throughout the spring (~50% chance of ENSO-Neutral during April-June).

As with any forecast six months into the future, there is still plenty of uncertainty as to the eventual path this La Niña takes. But don’t worry, because as those computer model ENSO Bells ring, we’ll be listening. (Is that taking this month’s Winter Wonderland theme too far? No? It’s a beautiful sight? You’re happy tonight? I’ll stop now.)

In general, the warmest year of any decade will be an El Niño year, the coldest a La Niña one. This graph shows annual average surface temperatures (gray bars), grouped by decade, from 1950 to 2017. The warmest and coldest years of each decade are topped with circles: red for El Niño years and blue for La Niña years. El Niño/La Niña labels are based on the December-February anomaly of the Oceanic Niño Index.
Only two decades seem to violate the general rule: the 1960s and the 1990s. By our definition, 1963 did not qualify as El Niño year because the December–February ONI value was neutral. However, El Niño did emerge later in the year, and it persisted for 7 months. The bigger surprise was 1992, which was the coldest year of the 1990s despite being an El Niño year. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo was likely to blame. Graphic by NOAA, based on data from NCEI.

Gone away are the blue colors (cold anomalies). Here to stay are the red colors (warm anomalies) La Niña isn’t the only thing happening across our planet, even though it really sticks out on a map of ocean temperature anomalies. Of course, one reason for why it sticks out is that everywhere else is so much warmer than average. Because even as La Niña formed this year, on a whole, 2020 has been sizzling hot.

Usually, years with La Niñas are cooler than years without due to the huge amount of cooler than average ocean water exposed across the equatorial Pacific. On the flip side, years with El Niños tend to fall on the warm side. For instance, the warmest year on record is 2016 when one of the strongest El Niños since 1950 occurred. Meanwhile, the coolest years of most decades coincides with a La Niña.

And that got me thinking. How does this year’s global temperatures compare to global temperatures in similar years when a La Niña developed in the summer/fall after lukewarm conditions during the preceding winter?

Going back to 1950, there have been only seven cases that sort of matched—1954, 1964, 1970, 1988, 1995, 2007, 2010—and of those, four (bolded) were the closest matches. Comparing the closest matches, 2020 is on track to be almost 0.5°F warmer than the next warmest (2010) and 1.6°F than the coolest year. While that doesn’t seem like much, it is the difference between being ranked as the first or second warmest year on record (2020) or the seventh (2010) or #59 (1970). Clearly, the warming trend due to human-caused climate change is helped to bump up global temperatures over time. And 2020 is no exception. But even then, 2020 has certainly been something else.

Emily will be back later this month with the last ENSO Blog post of 2020, but don’t worry—we’ll still be here in 2021, giving you all the latest news on ENSO.

Journey of Water — Chapter 3: Treatment & Distribution — @DenverWater #ColoradoRiver #COriver #SouthPlatteRiver #aridification

Treating water to the highest quality is more than a job, while crews ensure underground pipes are up to the task.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Community Agriculture Alliance: The mighty #YampaRiver, our valley’s livelihood #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch. Hummer said most water users in the Yampa are complying with a state order issued nearly a year ago that requires measuring devices. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Here’s a guest column that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Gena Hinkemeyer):

Did you know that Colorado’s Water Plan calls for 80% of locally prioritized rivers to be covered by a stream management plan by 2030? Yes, that includes our Yampa River Basin.

The Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable is one of nine grassroots water policy roundtables throughout Colorado working to develop locally driven collaborative solutions to water supply challenges. The roundtable’s Integrated Water Management Plan will combine community input with science and engineering assessments to identify actions that protect existing and future water uses and support healthy river ecosystems in the face of growing populations, changing land uses and climate uncertainty.

So where do we begin with the IWMP process? Why not start with the biggest users of water here in the basin, our agricultural stakeholders. Stakeholders have been clear that agricultural infrastructure is in need of improvement, but there is limited documentation about specific needs. Stakeholder engagement is the most important factor to successful IWMPs. That’s where I come into play.

As a segment coordinator for the project, I am reaching out to our agricultural users to listen and learn from them about their use of water and riverside lands, plus their management concerns and opportunities they may see for improvements. I wasn’t really sure what my job would entail. I had visions of field work and lots of interaction with ranchers. Our work was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, but we were able to roll with the punches and conduct our interviews over the phone.

Virus or not, ranchers still had to irrigate their fields, so we found a way to continue our work. As it turns out, I learned more about irrigation and the effects irrigation has on our community than I ever thought possible. From the headgates of the Yampa all the way down to the confluence of the Green River, our team chose 50 water diversion structures for assessment.

What does a diversion assessment entail, you might ask? A technical team, J-U-B Engineering out of Grand Junction, conducted site visits on the 50 river structures. The site visit included a field inspection of the river headgate, ditch conditions, inventory and assessment of control structures, measurement devices and level of functionality, overall structural integrity and diversion functionality, along with the ability of the structure to divert a wide range of flows.

The results of the diversion assessment will benefit irrigators by providing a technical evaluation of their structure, including suggestions of ways to improve or modify the structure, if needed. The roundtable will use the information along with a combination of other studies regarding river health and recreation to select future priorities and action planning.

As the work of the IWMP continues, the assessments will also support regional decision making regarding multi-benefit projects — those that overlap agriculture, environment and recreation. Working on the IWMP has opened my eyes to how important agriculture and water are to this community. It’s our livelihood and our heritage.

For more information on the IWMP project, visit

Gena Hinkemeyer is segment coordinator for the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable Integrated Water Management Plan.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

Tribal leaders respond to the idea of an Indigenous Interior secretary — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News [December 14, 2020] (Graham Lee Brewer and Anna V. Smith):

Representation is important, and so are policy decisions impacting tribes on the ground.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to make his administration the most diverse in history, a promise that so far he has fulfilled with several key appointments. For weeks now, momentum has been building behind a push for the Department of the Interior to be run by an Indigenous person for the first time in history. Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo.

Beyond the obvious symbolic importance of having an Indigenous person lead Interior, a department with a long history of defying the best interests of tribal nations, the possibilities such a position would bring for tribal administrations and citizens alike are endless. Native leaders and advocates are hoping that a Haaland appointment would result in improved tribal consultation on everything from land protections to how agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, interact with tribal communities. As the country awaits Biden’s decision, Native communities are bracing for what could prove a seismic change in the way the federal government treats the interests of Indian Country.

Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo. Photo credit: Bridget Badore via High Country News

“It will be a moment to exhale for tribal leaders,” said Judith Le Blanc, a citizen of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance, a national Native training and organizing network. An Indigenous person leading Interior, she said, would mean having someone who understands the legal and inherent rights of Indigenous peoples to govern their own lands.

“We’re the only peoples in this country who have a collectively owned land base that has been self-governed since the beginning of time,” Le Blanc said. “To have someone who understands that historic fact and therefore the rights and responsibilities to consult and to discuss before a decision is made that will affect treaty lands will be amazing. It creates opportunities and possibilities that tribal leaders will have to step into.”

The possibility of an Indigenous person leading Interior comes after an election in which Indigenous voters supported the Biden/Harris ticket in critical states like Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin. As IllumiNatives — a nonprofit working to increase Native visibility — put it in a social media post, “Joe, Native people showed up for you. Now, show up for them.” If Haaland — or someone like Michael Connor, a member of Taos Pueblo and former deputy Interior director, whose name has also been floated as a possible nominee — were to run the department, it would have a significant impact on Indian Country policy for the next several years not only for department policies and representation, but also for on-the-ground realities.

Under the Trump administration, environmental laws were significantly weakened, protections of places like the Tongass National Forest were rolled back and large-scale, high-impact projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines were expedited. Many of those policies included a rushed — or, in the case of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, nonexistent — tribal consultation process. While all bureaucracies have flaws, both Haaland and Connor understand that including tribal nations in a government-to-government consultation process is non-negotiable. They could also reverse some of the Trump administration’s controversial decisions. Whoever is chosen, the stakes are high.

The Yurok Tribe was one of a host of tribes to sign a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, urging him to choose Haaland. The tribe has had a protracted battle with the federal government over keeping enough water in the Klamath River to support their lifeways and the river’s salmon population. In 2001, a government decision caused the largest fish kill in Yurok and U.S. history. Vice Chairman Frankie Myers says the representation and experience that would come with Haaland as an Indigenous person and lawmaker would be a welcome change: “Ensuring that Indigenous voices are at the highest level of government, specifically when it comes to resources, is critical for us moving this country in a better, more positive way.”

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, agrees. In November, the Trump administration announced that it would auction off oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge just two weeks before Biden takes office. The refuge, which lies within the ancestral lands of the Gwich’in, supports the sensitive populations of Porcupine caribou, polar bears and walruses. The Gwich’in Steering Committee has filed numerous lawsuits to stop the sale. “This current administration has done nothing but disrespect and violate the rights of our people,” Demientieff wrote in a statement to High Country News. As for an Indigenous leader of Interior, “I can’t believe it has taken this long. We have never been included in decisions that will affect our future.”

While Native voters tend to lean left, Indian Country issues on the Hill have typically found support with both Republicans and Democrats. The six Indigenous people who will join the next Congress are split evenly between the parties. And even though the political atmosphere has been considerably polarized under the Trump administration, the prevailing sentiment is that Haaland’s ability to work across the aisle will keep Indian Country policy from becoming a politically divisive issue.

“There’s a reason why people like (Republican U.S. Reps.) Don Young and Tom Cole have publicly spoken out in very positive ways regarding Deb,” said Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation and an Obama appointee who was the first Indigenous person to represent the U.S. on the United Nations Human Rights Council. “Because they’ve worked with her and know she’s willing to put the party politics aside and get pragmatic about challenges.”

“Because we understand that Native American issues are not a matter of conservative versus liberal, we have accomplished a great deal together,” said Rep. Cole. Out of all representatives in the House, Haaland’s bills have had the most bicameral support, and often bipartisan. And the political allies and partners she’s made in Congress have some predicting that this would translate to consensus building across the government on issues affecting Native people.

“Oftentimes, Interior is looked as the agency that handles Indian affairs,” said Kim Teehee, the Cherokee Nation’s congressional delegate. “We have HUD (Housing and Urban Development) that handles Indian housing, we have the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that handles broadband, education, the USDA (Department of Agriculture). There is such a cross-cutting nature of Indian Country issues, and I think she has the unique ability as a Cabinet secretary to convene the agencies.”

One non-Native whose name has been floated for the position is retiring Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, who has long been a champion of Indigenous affairs in Congress. His father, Stewart Udall, was secretary of Interior from 1961-1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. A number of progressive Native-led organizations have called on him to remove his name from consideration. When asked what it could mean for an Indigenous person to lead Interior, Udall told High Country News that “Native Americans should be in high positions throughout government in the White House and various agencies – it’s not just about the Interior Department,” adding that the next secretary must prioritize tribal nation’s needs with inclusive consultation, and put in “the hard work to make sure Native voices are front and center throughout the department.”

Graham Lee Brewer is an associate editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Email him at

Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Follow @annavtoriasmith.

This story was originally published at High Country News ( on December 14, 2020.