Montana's new big sky discovery – El Niño casts a wide net

From Montana State University  and the “weather is not climate” department:

Montana State researcher discovers link between Montana weather, ocean near Peru

BOZEMAN, Mont. – A Montana State University researcher who analyzed 100 years of data has found a significant link between extreme Montana weather and the ocean temperatures near Peru.

Montanans who want to know what to expect from the weather should look to the Pacific Ocean in the fall or maybe find a way to chat with some Peruvian fishermen, according to Joseph Caprio, professor emeritus in MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences and former Montana State Climatologist.

If the average surface temperature of the ocean near Peru is warmer than normal from November through March, fishing off the coast of Peru will be poor and Montana will experience El Nino from the following December through June, Caprio said. El Nino generally means Montana will be warm and dry.

If the average surface temperature is cooler than usual from November through March, fishing off the coast of Peru will be good and Montana will have a cool, wet spring, like the one experienced this year during La Nina, Caprio said. He added that weather in different areas of the country responds differently to El Nino or La Nina.

Caprio said Peruvian fishermen knew hundreds of years ago that ocean temperatures affected their livelihood. And scientists have long known that weather around the globe is linked to El Nino in different parts of the world. Meteorologists with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration make long-range forecasts by monitoring sea surface temperatures, atmospheric pressure, wind, air temperatures and cloudiness in various areas of the Pacific Ocean.

Caprio focused on the sea-surface temperatures in the area that’s associated with Montana weather. That area is off the Peruvian coast and near the equator. It covers about 550 miles from north to south and 4,100 miles east to west.

Caprio specifically wanted to determine the effect of El Nino on extreme daily temperatures and precipitation in Montana.

“Since El Nino sea surface temperature anomalies tend to persist for many months and have predictable climatic associations, it is prudent to undertake research to understand how El Nino affects extremes of weather for individual locations in order to provide useful information for decision makers,” Caprio said in a paper he published in the Intermountain Journal of Sciences.

Compared to normal years, El Nino years tend to have about 20 percent more days with extreme high daytime temperatures, 20 percent fewer days with extreme low nighttime temperatures and 20 percent fewer days with high precipitation amounts, Caprio said.

“An increase or decrease of extreme daily weather occurrences can impact natural resources and a wide range of human activities including agriculture, forestry, recreation, construction and other businesses,” he added.

Luther Talbert, a professor in MSU’s Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, reported the impact of a long-term trend toward warmer temperatures on hard red spring wheat in a paper he co-authored with other ag researchers at MSU. Published last year in the journal “Crop Science, ” the paper showed that warmer temperatures are changing the environment for spring wheat production and will impact the goals of breeding programs.

That study looked at weather data and crop performance at six Agricultural Research Stations across Montana. From 1950 to 2007, the mean annual temperatures at five of the six sites increased significantly. March temperatures increased significantly at all sites, and planting dates became significantly earlier over time. This has led to earlier planting and a potentially longer growing season. Conversely, hotter temperatures in summer are causing earlier leaf senescence, thus shortening the time plants have to produce plump grain.

“The projection of increasing temperatures suggests the need for management and breeding strategies to ensure productivity of hard red spring wheat in the northern Great Plains,” the paper said.

Caprio conducted his study by analyzing the relationship between two databases that each provided 100 years of information. One database gave the air temperature and precipitation as recorded every day from 1901 to 2000 on the MSU campus. The other database came from the Japanese Meteorological Agency and gave the monthly temperature of the ocean’s surface between the latitudes of 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south and the longitudes of 150 degrees west and 90 degrees west. Those temperatures were taken in a variety of ways over the years – some by ship, others by buoys and satellites, Caprio said.

Caprio specifically compared MSU temperatures and precipitation between Dec. 3 and June 23 to average sea-surface temperatures between November and March. The study period included 50 normal years, 25 El Nino years and 25 La Nina years.

To analyze the data, Caprio used a statistical method he developed years ago called the “iterative chi-square method.” It’s different from most other techniques for studying climate impacts because it uses daily temperatures and precipitation, Caprio said. He added that he has proven the method in previous studies that considered the effect of daily temperatures and precipitation on apple, peach, grape, sweet cherry and apricot production in British Columbia, tree ring growth in Arizona, wheat production and winterkill in Montana, and climate variation in the Northwest.

Caprio said he continues to conduct such research because he has a curiosity to discover and wants to share his research methods with the scientific community, contribute to human knowledge, assist researchers in determining the effect of daily temperature and precipitation on agriculture natural resources and human activity, and emphasize the importance of long-term daily weather observations.


Co-authors on Caprio’s latest study were Perry Miller and Jon Wraith, both in MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. Wraith is now with the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture in Durham, N.H.

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August 5, 2011 3:40 pm

Hmmm. There’s been a couple of studies that show how ENSO impacts local climate. Is this a preview of the upcoming IPCC report, which is supposed to include regional projections of climate through the 20th Century. They’d better work on their climate models because the batch used in AR4 did a poor job of modelling ENSO. If they can’t hindcast ENSO, they have no basis on which to project ENSO.

August 5, 2011 3:46 pm

Taxdollars at work?
Montana shows no significant warming since 1986/187 (el niño).
This would have been since 1981 (el niño) weren’t for El Chichon.
In many states of the US there has been no significant warming since the beginning of the last century or since the nineteen thirties.
In other states there occures a jump in a normal course of temperatures after which there has been no more significant warming.
In the West, North West and West North Central this happened in the year 1986. In the South West in 1994.
In the North East and East North Central this was in 1998.
A big part of Canada shows no significant warming since 1987, the rest only shows warming in 1998 and no significant warming there after.
Alaska doesn’t show significant warming since the shift in the PDO (1978).

August 5, 2011 3:46 pm

Maybe one day someone will find a correlation of the Stock Market and some temperature at a remote location…

August 5, 2011 3:56 pm

“If the average surface temperature of the ocean near Peru is warmer than normal from November through March, fishing off the coast of Peru will be poor and Montana will experience El Nino from the following December through June, Caprio said. El Nino generally means Montana will be warm and dry…”
The tail wags the dog…
El Nino is a consequence.
It is ample time Leroux work would be read by these university professors…

August 5, 2011 3:57 pm

From 1950 to 2007, the mean annual temperatures at five of the six sites increased significantly

If he has 100 years of data, why is this particular 58 year period highlighted?

August 5, 2011 5:10 pm

So does that mean that El Nino makes more CO2 fizz?

August 5, 2011 5:31 pm

“One database gave the air temperature and precipitation as recorded every day from 1901 to 2000 on the MSU campus”
Interesting side note that Anthony may wish to consider for future examination:
They just recently calculated the new thirty year climate ‘normals’ for Montana surface stations. The MSU station temperature normal did not change. The Gallatin Field airport, about 15 miles away, had its temperature normal increase by 3 degrees.
First consider the base assumption of surface station temp records: that ‘climate’ is supposed to be the same within geographic distances much larger than 15 miles. This assumption supports the notion that one station’s data can be used to ‘correct’ data from another ‘nearby’ station.
Then consider that the MSU campus is urban … the airport is rural. How is that ‘correction’ going to work …

August 5, 2011 5:49 pm

JJ says:
August 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm
Sounds like a case of the airport sensor reading 13 O’clock.

Ed Caryl
August 5, 2011 5:59 pm

MSU campus – lots of grassy lawns.
Airport – lots of asphalt.
The “correction” should be the reverse of normal.

August 5, 2011 6:46 pm

I wonder how much of Montana’s weather comes from the west side of Central America. There are some time delayed effects from El Nino there.

August 5, 2011 7:45 pm

Hasn’t it been known for a long, long time that the northwest US is warm and dry during El Nino years, and that Montana’s winter and spring storms come from the north Pacific, just like Washington and Oregon?

Al Marinaro
August 5, 2011 9:13 pm

How is this a surprise? The PDO and ENSO are strongly related, both poles of the PDO pattern have different outcomes in many different areas of the country…

Shanghai Dan
August 5, 2011 10:09 pm

So if I want to play a prank on my friend who lives in Missoula, all I have to do is head on down to the Peruvian coast around January, and dump a bunch of ice in the ocean? Oh that’s gonna play HAVOC with his spring golf tee times!

F. Patrick Crowley
August 5, 2011 10:32 pm

Bozeman has grown significantly over the period under discussion and the MSU Station might have significant UHI effects. The good professor would have been better served to have used one of the remote ag satations with a long period of record like Ft. Assinoboine 10 miles from Havre, MT, or Moccasin, MT in central MT. As far as I know, these stations have not been “corrected” yet.

August 5, 2011 11:30 pm

While we’re on the topic of El Niño, has there ever been a recognised link between El Niño (SOI) and global sea level? I notice in the Colorado sea level graph
that temporary rises in sea level correspond with divergences between “Darwin and Tahiti anomalies (smooth)” in
Tahiti (red) is well below Darwin (green) in 1992-94, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2010, and these dates appear to correspond with temporary increases in sea level in the Colorado Uni graph.

August 5, 2011 11:40 pm

I see now they talk about it in the Colorado Uni page a bit further down. They conclude that sea level will start rising again soon. I don’t remember seeing that in their page before, but of course it might have been there.

Martin Brumby
August 6, 2011 1:30 am

Imagine you are a climate “scientist” in Montana.
Imagine you’re bored & fancy a nice break but can’t afford to pay for it.
The rest is history.
Thanks, Mr. Taxpayer!

Bill Illis
August 6, 2011 6:03 am

I think it is time again for a seasonal favorite.

August 6, 2011 9:11 am

According to Wikipedia and the US Census Bureau, Bozeman’s population went up about 36% from 2000 to 2010 alone.

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