Winter Preparations

In an October update Emily Becker with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts, “El Niño will continue through the spring, with a 75-85% chance it will become a strong event. A stronger El Niño… means it is more likely that we will see El Niño’s expected thumbprint on winter temperature and rain/snow patterns around the world.”

In yesterday’s Sunday New York Times, three economists argued:

El Niño’s warming builds on top of the already warmer average temperatures that come with climate change. This makes El Niño’s ancillary impacts — higher food prices, more infectious diseases, and even civil war — increasingly more likely, and dangerous. It also provides a warning sign of what is to come as climate change worsens. Our research suggests that this year’s El Niño could lead to events like crop failures that push up to 6.8 million children into severe hunger. (Their original research is here.)

Depending on location El Niño and La Niña periods can have opposite effects (see map below). More rain for the US Southwest and Texas is not necessarily bad news, but major flooding would not be welcome. It is hard to find a silver lining for high heat and low precipitation across South Asia or the Amazon basin or Southern Africa.

Where I sit today, it is a bright day in early autumn. As recently outlined here and elsewhere, the US economy is bustling about and surprisingly strong. Many leading indicators are fine or better than fine. I live in that dark green (cool and wet) spot over the Southeast United States. It has been too dry. We need the precipitation.

Probabilities are not certainties. But we ignore plausible patterns at our peril. When I combine climatological probabilities with troublesome economic probabilities (here and here and here) and geopolitical patterns (here and here and here) — well, an icy winter seems all too likely despite warm sunshine here and now.

Even for those reasonably well-prepared, a collision of hard hits can cascade tough consequences across demand and supply networks. Hidden vulnerabilities are unveiled. Systemic risks are amplified. Given the interdependencies of contemporary supply chains, the ill-prepared are unlikely to be the only ones left dancing (see farther below).