La Nada, El Niño, or Three-Peat La Niña for 2012/13 ENSO Season?

Readers may have noticed the WUWT ENSO meter is in the neutral zone.

Bob Tisdale asks where it will head next.

Guest post by Bob Tisdale

Last year about this time, the El Niño-Southern Oscillations (ENSO) models from around the globe predicted ENSO-neutral to El Niño conditions for the 2011/12 ENSO season. But the two siblings (El Niño and La Niña) decided that it was La Niña’s turn to alter weather patterns globally. This year, the models are predicting the same as last year: Some are predicting El Niño conditions, while others are leaning to ENSO-neutral.

If it’s an El Niño, it’s possible global surface temperature anomalies would set a new record high next year in some of the products used to display that metric. If it’s not, global surface temperatures are not as likely to present new record highs. Record global surface temperature levels or lack thereof, of course, stimulate claims on both sides of the anthropogenic global warming debate and serve as a basis for discussions.

So, readers, which will it be for the upcoming ENSO season: an El Niño, ENSO-neutral conditions, or a back-to-back-to-back/three-peat/triple-dip La Niña?

Don’t ask me; I don’t make predictions. But I would like to see two possible outcomes that are discussed in the closing.

Here are some visual aids to help you soothsayers with your prognostications.

Figures 1, 2 and 3 show the ENSO model forecasts from April 23, 2012 and May 9, 2011. The 2012 forecasts are from the latest NOAA/CPC ENSO Diagnostic Discussion that I downloaded on Monday April 30th. The 2011 forecasts from May 2011 are from the same website but archived on the Wayback Machine. To save you some time searching, I’ve uploaded and stored the two NOAA pdf documents at my website here (2012) and here (2011). Keep in mind the forecasts blew it last year: there was a La Niña for the 2011/12 season.

Figure 1 (Click to enlarge)


Figure 2 (Click to enlarge)


Figure 3 (Click to enlarge)


Figure 4 shows the 2012 and 2011 subsurface temperature anomalies for the equatorial Pacific. There are elevated subsurface temperature anomalies present at depth in the western equatorial Pacific in both years, while the pocket of warmer-than-normal subsurface waters in the east was larger last year.

Figure 4 (Click to enlarge)

The Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) data from Jan 1982 to April 2012 is shown in Figure 5. With the SOI, El Niño events are the sustained negative spikes and the La Niña events are positive ones. The SOI is an ENSO index that represents the difference in sea level pressure between Tahiti and Darwin Australia. The BOM standardizes the data and then multiplies it by 10. The April 2012 value of -7.1 is of interest because as the BOM notes on their Glossary webpage for the SOI:

Sustained negative values of the SOI greater than −8 often indicate El Niño episodes. These negative values are usually accompanied by sustained warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, a decrease in the strength of the Pacific Trade Winds, and a reduction in winter and spring rainfall over much of eastern Australia and the Top End. You can read more about historical El Niño events and their effect on Australia in the Detailed analysis of past El Niño events.


Figure 5

Like the SOI, El Niño events in NOAA’s trade wind index for the western equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 135E-180)appear as prolonged downward spikes and La Niña events show up as the opposite. This is an important index because the Pacific trade winds push sunlight-warmed water in the tropical Pacific to the west; the trade winds “hold” the warm water in the western Pacific Warm Pool, where it “piles up”; and it’s a relaxation of the trade winds that allows gravity to carry the warm water from the Pacific Warm Pool to the east during an El Niño. Unfortunately, as of today (May 2, 2012) NOAA has not yet released its trade wind index data for April 2012. And as of March 2012, the trade winds in the western equatorial Pacific were still elevated.

Figure 6

Figures 7 and 8 are preliminary April 2012 and weekly satellite-based (Reynolds OI.v2) sea surface temperature anomalies for the NINO3.4 region of the equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 170W-120W). I’ve borrowed them from my PRELIMINARY April 2012 SST Anomaly Update. NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies are a widely referenced ENSO index and are used in NOAA’s Oceanic NINO Index (ONI) data, though ONI is based on NOAA’s ERSST.v3b sea surface temperature dataset. Unlike the SOI and trade wind data, El Niño events show up as prolonged positive values and La Niña events appear as prolonged negative sea surface temperature anomalies. Both the weekly and monthly NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies show the central equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures approaching 0.0 deg C. But that also happened last year before the weak La Niña formed.

Figure 7


Figure 8



So what will it be?

Personally, I would prefer either a La Niña or a Super El Niño like the one that occurred in 1997/98. Why? I’d like to see what happens to North Atlantic sea surface temperature anomalies if there was a three-peat La Niña. Will that contribute to a downturn in the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation?

And with all of those ARGO buoys bobbing around in the Pacific, they would provide new insight into the multiyear aftereffects of a Super El Niño. Researchers could track the huge volume of leftover warm water that returns to the western tropical Pacific via a Rossby wave (at about 10N) . Where does all of that warm subsurface water go after it slams into Indonesia? Does it, as I suspect, reappear as secondary, central Pacific, El Niño Modoki events over the next 8 to 10 years? If so, what paths does it take? After the warm water has been returned to the west and carried poleward, how long does it release heat in the Kuroshio-Oyashio Extension and South Pacific Convergence Zone, as secondary effects of the super El Niño? How much of the warm water makes its way into the tropical Indian Ocean to influence climate there? Little questions.


About one-quarter of my book If the IPCC was Selling Manmade Global Warming as a Product, Would the FTC Stop their deceptive Ads?, Section 6, is about the processes that are part of El Niño and La Niña events. Many of the discussions are rewordings (expansions and simplifications) of my posts here at Climate Observations, so you could save a few bucks and read dozens of posts. But the book provides a single resource and reference for you and includes a very basic, well-illustrated introduction to El Niño, La Niña, and ENSO-neutral conditions written in simple terms. Included in the ENSO section are discussions of how La Niña events are not the opposite of El Niño events and how and why certain parts of the global oceans warm in response to certain El Niño AND to the La Niña events that follow them. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation is a marvelous process Mother Nature has devised to enhance or slow the distribution of heat from the tropics to the poles. It is process that naturally varies in intensity, and due to those variations, it is capable of warming or cooling global temperatures over multiyear and multidecadal periods. The individual chapter titles of Section 6 will give you an idea of the topics discussed. See pages 9 and 10 of the introduction, table of contents, and closing of my book in pdf form here.


All but the source of the sea surface temperature data are linked in the text of the post.  The Reynolds (OI.v2) SST anomaly data is available through the NOAA NOMADS website:



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“So what will it be?
Personally, I would prefer either a La Niña or a Super El Niño like the one that occurred in 1997/98. ”
Good luck with that super el nino. Not happening, though I’d not be surprised if Hansens predicting one yet again. Too bad he’s not had an accurate prediction in 30 years.

Richard M

I’d prefer staying ENSO neutral for an entire year. That should tell us where our baseline temperature is (a little better than either extreme).


Looking at the animation from NRL Equatorial Pacific Sea Surface Temperature – 30 days, it appears that the La Nina is already beginning to come back. Maybe a repeat of last year.

Richard deSousa

I think it will be another La Nina. I think there’s a connection between what the cosmic rays do to our climate and ENSO.

Looking at this chart
it looks like the history repeats. 1990-2002 seems to be copied, where strong 1997 Nino was repeated in weaker form in 2010, and then was followed by three-spiked Ninas around 2000, well we are now just after the second spike. Also notice, the overall trend moves upward to colder La Nina conditions.


I would like to see an effort to exclude the word “record.” It gives the impression of “never before has this ever happened.” When infact, there is records that far exceed any cold or warm we are in the near future experiencing around the globe. Thus, no RECORD temperature change or events will be in coming along next year or the one after. Not likely we will see any ice ball planet or raging warm pole to pole jungle heat …. ever. No new temperature records.


I thought about this today, after I saw that NINO3.4 index crossed the zero line (+0.03).
It looks like it might go negative again this year.


It snowed down to the 3000 ft.-level in the Blue Mountains in southeastern Washington state last night, so its starting out like a repeat of last year’s cool summer.


I’ve read that one of the features of the PDO is how it affects ENSO, or maybe it’s the ENSO that controls PDO? Who knows? Anyway, when the PDO is in the warm cycle, El Ninos dominate, and when it is in the cool cycle, La Ninas dominate. SInce the models were all written during the previous, warm PDO cycle, is it possible that they are biased towards El Ninos?

I think the warmest we will see is a mild El Niño, but mostly i don’t expect to see the needle venture very far from Neutral territory.


“Will that contribute to a downturn in the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation?”
AMO will turn down very soon and the cooling will be stronger/longer than the 1960s cooling. AMO is driven by solar activity (solar cycle frequency/length).


I recall that Joe Bastardi predicted El Nino later this year then after that, we would see more frequent and longer lasting La Nina.
I want El Nino. La Nina has not been very kind to Texas…

Juraj V. Says: “Looking at this chart
it looks like the history repeats….”
Like the similarities between the 1971/72 and 1997/98 El Nino events and the periods of secondary events?
The aftermath of the 1986/87/88 isn’t quite the same, but there are enough similarities to make one think this primary/secondary effect should have been investigated:
From this post:


It will depend on the next southern hemisphere winter, and it seems it will be a harsh winter; if so ocean waters will not warm up, as simple as that. (Of course, “it´s the Sun”, again)

I will make a marginal prediction. If ocean heat content is dropping (as ARGO data seemed to show before it was tweaked with some very sparse deeper water data and as ENVISAT seemed to show before it failed) then the baseline ENSO surface temperature for distinguishing an El Nino from a La Nina should be dropping, but for now that adjustment is not incorporated, leaving the present baseline unbalanced between El Nino and La Nina. As the oscillations are defined, La Nina should now be more likely than El Nino, but only by a small margin.

Brian in Bellingham

Klaus Wolter points out that that there have been 10 instances of back-to-back Nina’s between 1900 and 2009. What happened the next year? Four times the Nina repeated (or “three-peated”), and 6 times a Nino developed. There have been no neutral years following a double Nina. But a small sample size.

Jenn Oates

Whatever brings lots of nice wet rain to the Central Valley makes me happy. It could rain from October to June and I wouldn’t complain a bit. Heck, I wouldn’t complain if it rained all year long, but that’s probably asking a bit much at this point in the glacial cycle.
I’m thinking maybe I need to take up my son and DiL’s invite and shift my base of operations to Norway. Bergen, perhaps, the rainiest city in Western Europe? They’re bribing me with grandchildren…rain might tip the balance in their favor. 🙂


Bob, what’s the physical evidence for this statement “and it’s a relaxation of the trade winds that allows gravity to carry the warm water from the Pacific Warm Pool to the east during an El Niño” ?
Currents are still moving generally from east to west even when the trade winds relax. It seems dubious that sea surface height differences across thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean make enough of a slope for gravity to drag the water back east. The idea just doesn’t make sense to me. What makes more sense is that slower transport of westward flowing water allows the temperatures to rise in the eastern region more than when the water is whisked rapidly westward.

Agile Aspect

Based on the precession of the orbital plane of the Moon by the Sun, it’ll be a La Nina.
It’s that 70’s show.


If you won’t make a prediction, how about a projection? That’s what the modelers do. Then, if it fails, you can claim that it was a projection, but if it’s right you can claim that you were right.

Edim says:
May 2, 2012 at 9:33 am

I thought about this today, after I saw that NINO3.4 index crossed the zero line (+0.03).

That lead me to which has data for this year like:


I infer this is data smoothed over the noted week.
There’s also

Weekly SST data starts week centered on 3Jan1990
                Nino1+2      Nino3        Nino34        Nino4
 Week          SST SSTA     SST SSTA     SST SSTA     SST SSTA
 04JAN2012     22.7-1.1     24.6-0.8     25.5-1.0     27.2-1.0
 11JAN2012     23.7-0.5     24.8-0.7     25.6-0.9     27.1-1.0
 18JAN2012     24.0-0.6     24.9-0.8     25.4-1.1     27.1-1.1
 25JAN2012     24.6-0.4     25.2-0.7     25.5-1.1     26.9-1.2
 01FEB2012     24.6-0.7     25.2-0.8     25.5-1.2     27.0-1.1
 08FEB2012     25.2-0.4     25.6-0.6     25.7-1.0     27.1-0.9
 15FEB2012     26.9 0.9     26.3-0.1     26.1-0.6     27.1-0.9
 22FEB2012     26.9 0.9     26.8 0.2     26.5-0.4     27.4-0.7
 29FEB2012     27.3 1.1     27.1 0.4     26.4-0.5     27.2-0.8
 07MAR2012     26.6 0.4     26.7-0.2     26.4-0.6     27.3-0.8
 14MAR2012     26.6 0.3     26.6-0.4     26.6-0.6     27.5-0.6
 21MAR2012     26.7 0.5     27.0-0.1     26.7-0.5     27.8-0.4
 28MAR2012     26.9 0.9     27.5 0.3     27.1-0.2     27.7-0.5
 04APR2012     26.2 0.5     27.6 0.3     27.2-0.3     27.9-0.4
 11APR2012     27.4 1.9     27.8 0.5     27.3-0.3     28.1-0.2
 18APR2012     26.8 1.5     27.5 0.1     27.3-0.4     28.1-0.3
 25APR2012     26.6 1.6     27.5 0.2     27.6-0.1     28.4-0.1

Bob pointed me to the latter as a source of data for the ENSO meter. I’m not very fond of it, it stopped getting updated a couple times but prodding the keepers of the data got it back.
The two sources have different data – the NOAA data has four contiguous weeks with the SSTA at -1.0 or less, the BOM data has a single sample.
Is one source “better” than the other to display with the ENSO meter? I favor the Aussies a bit on this, as they’re closer to the data, and also do a good job tracking the SOI.

Bob – instead of separating things with rows of HHHHH, you might try the more elegant <hr> HTML command (Horizontal Rule). OTOH – people can step through sections by searching for HHHHH.


What does the Farmer’s Almanac say?

Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

Jim G

I have developed a model with secret parameters, forcings and all that good poop, statistically significant at the .001 level and it says La Nina cause that’s what I want it to say, as we need the moisture here. I guess I now are a clymutolygist.

Mac the Knife

La Nina pulls off the ‘hat trick’! Slaps another one through the AGW ‘5-hole’!
(Ice Hockey jargon, for our confused foreign friends!)

Lars P.

It does not look like enough heat accumulated in the depth to create an El Nino so I would think it will take another La Nina to do that.
2 month ago I would have said that it comes for an El Nino, but now I think La Nina is more probable looking at this:
but hey, it is my first eveh forecast

Gary says: “Bob, what’s the physical evidence for this statement ‘and it’s a relaxation of the trade winds that allows gravity to carry the warm water from the Pacific Warm Pool to the east during an El Niño’ ?”
During an El Niño, the equatorial Counter Current (west to east) in the Pacific increases in strength. Refer to the following post and the YouTube video it contains:
Sometime in the past three years I had also prepared a series of graphs of sea surface heights in 5-degree longitude bands across the tropical Pacific that showed the variations in sea level before, during, and after the 1997/98 El Niño. But I’ll be dipped if I can find it.
The following animation provides a comparison of SST anomalies in the top map, and sea anomalies in the lower map:

Seems to be time for El Niño, again.
Either a moderate one with maximum in 2014, or a strong one with maximum in 2013 and return to La Niña in 2014.

El Niño would be unusual at this point in the solar cycle. However, cycle 24 is anything but usual.

Randall G

I don’t know any climate scientists, so I talked to the guys at the track. Handicappers see La Nina as sharp again this year as a closer and better on a sloppy track. El Nino has been dull on pace but could be a stalker after the two year layoff, though many thought it was going to be in the money last year.
La Nina:
Win: 5 to 1
Place: 3 to 1
Show: Even
El Nino:
Win: 12 to 1
Place: 6 to 1
Show: Even


I’ve been following the ensemble forecast on the ENSO page at this very site for a while. The predictions have been terrible more than one or two months away. Like you pointed out the forecasts were for an El Nino. But they were equally bad at the first and second dip of the current La Nina, with some forecasts showing an upcoming -3 or lower. The ensemble mean at both times showing an upcoming decrease down to below -2.5.
My guesstimate for the upcoming 6 months:
First a continued increase to just shy of +0.5, with a peak in late june or early july, then a drop to La Nina conditions again by the end of september.
I also make a guesstimate regarding the reason for the poor predictions by the models: They were calibrated to the conditions of the pacific during a period where the PDO was predominantly positive.

Eric Webb

I think we’ll see a very weak el nino this winter, with neutral conditions lasting to about August, the cold PDO signature has weakened somewhat, so I’m inclined to think an el nino is what we should expect. I really hope an el nino does come because that could reverse the pressures in the high latitudes from their overall low this pat winter, to more high pressure and that would send temperatures tumbling across the United States this winter, and if the GW alarmists were looking for warm spots this winter they probably wouldn’t look in North America.

Gail Combs

adolfogiurfa says:
May 2, 2012 at 9:56 am
It will depend on the next southern hemisphere winter, and it seems it will be a harsh winter; if so ocean waters will not warm up, as simple as that. (Of course, “it´s the Sun”, again)
And the Sun is in a blue funk still. Geoff’s chart of all methods of counting sunspots:


I hope we get a continuation of neutral to El Niño. As Nerd wrote earlier, La Niña does not care for Texas.

Wayne Delbeke

The La Nina’s are kind to skiers at least in BC and Alberta – off to the hills for a couple of days again tomorrow:

I predict something will – or will not, happen – and that “something” will certainly be blamed on Global Warming!

Nerd says:
May 2, 2012 at 9:50 am
I recall that Joe Bastardi predicted El Nino later this year then after that, we would see more frequent and longer lasting La Nina.
I want El Nino. La Nina has not been very kind to Texas…
And you think El Nino is good for Australia? 🙂
Being an Ozzie who doesn’t know a real lot, I would hazard that it will be Neutral to slightly El Nino followed by a full blown La Nina.


Bring on the boy!


I think it will be neutral or a weak El Nino.


Let’s fire up that MET super-duper-computer. It’s always right… (lights dim, flicker… buzz, click… ding!), wait for it…
> Subscript error in line 349384383

Robert of Ottawa

WUWT’s ENSO reference page is my most visited on this site, followed by The Sea Ice page, aprticularly in September.


Bob, I reviewed the ONI data in the two snap shots and noticed that all the old data changed between the two snap shots. How is that possible? It looks like major league adjusting took place between May 2011 and Apr 2012! What is going on there? Have you noticed it as well ?


With the negative PDO modulating things, El Nino is going to be scarce for years to come. Therefore, ENSO Neutral.

Mike says: “Bob, I reviewed the ONI data in the two snap shots and noticed that all the old data changed between the two snap shots. How is that possible?”
Mike, they changed how they determined the climatology for anomalies:


BoM in Australia is saying 13% chance of September being warm (Nino) and 87% chance of neutral. The Met Office is predicting warm (Nino).
Thus I’m going with neutral.

Any ENSO prediction needs to take account of the current and expected PDO position. At present the position is still on the negative side but this can also not show us the complete position. The last La Nina I think was mostly fueled by the warm pool of water in the Nth Pacific that is typical during the neg PDO phase. This pool is now very weak and unless there is a change soon it is unlikely to assist any future La Nina of any strength.
The following link has a comparison of the PDO warm pool position then and now.
So perhaps the Pacific might endure the current neutral conditions for some time. The pool of water above New Guinea will give us a lead as the season progresses.
Meanwhile the Sun continues its slumber with another downturn last month. The current trend is still way below SC5.


Did all the models in the ensemble really get it wrong? It seems to me that the prediction of the JPN dynamical one (the one plotted with a green diamond) was pretty close. If its accuracy holds, then we’re probably in for La Nada.


My prediction? Partly cloudy with a chance of rain.
Then someone on a blog somewhere will start yammering about the “end of the world” for whatever reason.

Geoff Sharp says:
May 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm
Dumb question, perhaps this is obvious among the set of smart phone users, I’m not a member.
What’s the benefit of a tinyurl URL over the result, ?
It looks like tinyurl is saving just one character. Does also provide a web counter or other tracking stuff?
Also, you note in node 224 “The Maunder had 3 disruptive AMP events from 1610 to 1690,” so what’s an AMP event? Searching for amp mostly yielded examples.

Hi Ric, I replace the landschei.. url with the tinyurl address because any post with the word landschei.. ends up in the sin bin which can mean a delay of a couple of hours with the post finally ending upstream and not read.
The AMP event is angular momentum perturbation as shown by the green arrows on Carl’s graph. This is explained clearly on my websites, feel free to post questions on my sites as this topic is banned here.