On Dana1981’s Meaningless ENSO Exercise at SkepticalScience

Dana Nuccitelli (Dana1981) of SkepticalScience has redefined El Niño and La Niña years in a meaningless exercise to show that the warming trends of El Niño, La Niña and ENSO-neutral years are comparable. It confirms his limited understanding of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its impacts on global surface temperatures, or his willingness to misrepresent them, or a combination of the above. Dana also made some flawed assumptions with his new definitions of El Niño, La Niña and ENSO-neutral years. “Flawed assumptions” is the nicest way I can phrase that.


Dana Nuccitelli went to great lengths to redefine El Niño and La Niña years and to create a misleading graph (gif animation), Figure 1, in his SkepticalScience post Was 2012 the Hottest La Niña Year on Record? According to his new definition of El Niño, La Niña and ENSO-neutral years, global temperatures warmed at similar rates for the three phases of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

01 ENSO_Temps_677

Figure 1 – Dana Nuccitelli’s Meaningless Graph

NOAA defines an El Niño and La Niña year as:

A La Niña (El Niño) year is defined here as occurring when the first three months of a calendar year meet the La Niña (El Niño) criteria as defined by the CPC.

Dana Nuccitelli apparently did not want to use NOAA’s definition for his meaningless graph. And he definitely couldn’t have used the older version of NOAA’s Oceanic NINO Index with NOAA’s definition of El Niño and La Niña years because 2012 would not have qualified as a La Niña year.


Dana Nuccitelli writes:

Rather than define a somewhat arbitrary threshold for a La Niña/El Niño year (i.e. based on the size of the index and number of months exceeding a certain threshold) or limiting the analysis to one ENSO index, I first took the average of the three indices mentioned above (ONI, MEI, and SOI, accounting for the fact that positive SOI indicates La Niña conditions while the opposite is true for ONI and MEI).

I then examined the data over the past 45 years, and split the average annual ENSO index in three, defining the 15 years having the largest La Niña influence as “La Niña years”, the 15 years having the largest El Niño influence as “El Niño years”, and the 15 years in the middle as “Neutral years”. In this analysis I assumed a 4-month lag between changes in ENSO and changes in global surface temperature, consistent with the results in Foster & Rahmstorf (2011).

In essence, I’m simply grouping the years whose temperatures had the most (in the uppermost 33%) La Niña/El Niño influence over the past 45 years, and seeing what those groupings tell us. I excluded years which were strongly influenced by the El Chichón (1983–1985) and Mount Pinatubo (1992–1994) volcanic eruptions (because large eruptions release particulates into the atmosphere which cause a strong short-term cooling), and looked at the temperature trends in each of the three categories (Figure 1).

Dana Nuccitelli assumes there were 15 El Niño, 15 La Niña and 15 ENSO-neutral years; that is, that they were split evenly. As a reference, according to NOAA’s definition, there were only 8 El Niño years since 1968. See Figure 2. Or to look at it another way, Dana assumes the threshold of the 15th weakest El Niño will be comparable to that of the 15th weakest La Niña. Let’s see if it is.

02 SOTC graph 201213

Figure 2

I’ve assumed that Nuccitelli inverted the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) data to account for its inverse relationship with the other two datasets, and I’ve assumed that the “4-month lag” means he redefined a year so that it starts in September and ends in August. Also, assuming he averaged the three ENSO indices, Dana would have had to standardize them, because the Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI data here), Oceanic NINO Index (link includes ONI data), and Southern Oscillation Index (BOM SOI data here) all represent different variables with different scales.

So to replicate Dana Nuccitelli’s Average ENSO Index (what I’ll call the “Nuccitelli ENSO Index”), Figure 3 in monthly form, I inverted the SOI data, standardized all three indices, then averaged them. Figure 4 shows the Nuccitelli ENSO Index in annual form, with years lasting from September to August. The year from September 1967 to August 1968 is listed as 1968, and so on. Note the 1976 Pacific Climate shift in Figure 3. It stands out like a sore thumb. Also note the decay in the strengths of El Niño events from 1982 to present in Figure 4, which seems to have accelerated a little since the early 2000s. Why didn’t Nuccitelli illustrate and discuss his newly created ENSO index?

03 Monthly Ave ENSO Index

Figure 3


04 Annual Ave ENSO Index

Figure 4

Using the methods employed by Nuccitelli, I’ve identified the 15 strongest positive anomalies and classified them as El Niños in Figure 5, and I’ve done the same with La Niñas. According to the Nuccitelli ENSO Index, the threshold for El Niños is +0.45, while the threshold for La Niñas is -0.32. The Nuccitelli ENSO Index makes it easier to qualify as a La Niña than El Niño. What nonsense!! Another was way to look at it, the Nuccitelli index shows that ENSO was skewed toward El Niño conditions during the period he chose to examine. Why didn’t Nuccitelli present that at SkepticalScience?

05 Annual Ave ENSO Index With Danas Definitions

Figure 5

If Dana had made +/- 0.45 the thresholds, then 2009 and 2012 would not have qualified as La Niña years and there’d be no reason for his post. On the other hand, if he used the thresholds of +/- 0.32, then 4 additional years would qualify as El Niño years: 1978, 1982, 2004 and 2010.

Then he and his fans at SkepticalScience would have been forced to ponder why ENSO is skewed toward a greater number of El Niño events. They’d likely blame it on human-induced global warming. To counter those assumptions, the abstract of Ray and Giese (2012) Historical changes in El Niño and La Niña characteristics in an ocean reanalysis ends with:

Overall, there is no evidence that there are changes in the strength, frequency, duration, location or direction of propagation of El Niño and La Niña anomalies caused by global warming during the period from 1871 to 2008.


Just for fun, let’s plot the annual NCDC global land plus sea surface temperature anomalies, for the Nuccitelli-defined years of 1968 to 2012, looking at El Niño, La Niña and ENSO-neutral years where each event type is isolated. We’ll present them using the breakdowns as defined by Nuccitelli and by NOAA. And we’ll exclude volcano years to be consistent with Nuccitelli’s presentation.


Figure 6 shows the ENSO-neutral years as defined by NOAA. The global surface temperatures during NOAA-defined ENSO-neutral years appear to rise pretty much continuously. On the other hand, the rate at which global surface temperatures warmed as Dana Nuccitelli defined them appear to slow drastically in recent years, Figure 7.

06 Neutral2 NCDC

Figure 6


07 Neutral2 Dana

Figure 7


The El Niño years are isolated in Figures 8 and 9. Using the El Niño years as defined by Nuccitelli, Figure 8, it could be argued that the warming rate of global surface temperatures slowed in recent years but it’s for a short time period, but with the NOAA method, the warming rate of El Niño years have definitely slowed, Figure 9.

08 El Nino2 Dana

Figure 8


09 El Nino2 NCDC

Figure 9


The recent slowing in the rate of warming shows up quite well when the La Niña years are broken out, regardless of whether we use the Nuccitelli method (Figure 10) or the NOAA method (Figure 11).

10 La Nina2 Dana

Figure 10


11 La Nina2 NCDC

Figure 11

I don’t think Dana Nuccitelli thought through his attempts to segregate ENSO phases. For fun, someone was bound to do what I did—eventually.


In his post, Dana Nuccitelli states:

It’s also interesting to note that four of the past five years qualify as La Niña years in my methodology – they are in the top 33% of the strongest La Niña-influenced years since 1968. There has not been a similar El Niño year since 2005.

The year 2010 had a positive “Nuccitelli ENSO Index” value of +0.38, while 2009 and 2012 had negative values of -0.32 and -0.36 respectively. Refer to Table 1.

Table 1

Table 1

I believe Dana needs to look at his data again. Makes one wonder why he misled his followers. That portion of his post had little impact and all he did with it was allow the data to show that he was wrong—then again, he didn’t post the data.


The intent of Dana Nuccitelli’s meaningless exercise is summed up in the closing sentence of his post. He writes:

But when we break the data into La Niña/El Niño/Neutral categories, or when we filter out their effects as Kevin C did, we see that the underlying global surface warming trend of approximately 0.16°C per decade remains beneath the short-term noise.

In other words, according to Dana Nuccitelli, ENSO is only short-term noise on a human-induced global warming signal. That’s nonsense, of course.

For four years, I’ve been illustrating the long-term effects of El Niño and La Niña events on satellite-era sea surface temperatures–that is, that El Niño and La Niña events are primarily responsible for the warming of global sea surface temperatures over the past 31 years. And I’ve been showing for about 3 ½ years how ocean heat content data indicates that Mother Nature is responsible for its warming. I won’t weigh down this post with that discussion again. But if the discussion is new to you, refer to my illustrated essay “The Manmade Global Warming Challenge” (42MB), introduced in my post here. And for a more detailed discussion, refer to my ebook Who Turned on the Heat?, which is for sale here in .pdf form for US$8.00.

The proponents of anthropogenic global warming over at SkepticalScience appear to find climate models to be more credible than data in discussions of global warming. So for them, I’ll provide a reminder of the Karnauskas et al (2012) paper A Pacific Centennial Oscillation Predicted by Coupled GCMs. I posted about that paper in the blog post here, and it was cross posted at WattsUpWithThat here.

The Abstract reads (my boldface):

Internal climate variability at the centennial time scale is investigated using long control integrations from three state-of-the-art global coupled general circulation models. In the absence of external forcing, all three models produce centennial variability in the mean zonal sea surface temperature (SST) and sea level pressure (SLP) gradients in the equatorial Pacific with counterparts in the extratropics. The centennial pattern in the tropical Pacific is dissimilar to that of the interannual El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), in that the most prominent expression in temperature is found beneath the surface of the western Pacific warm pool. Some global repercussions nevertheless are analogous, such as a hemispherically symmetric atmospheric wave pattern of alternating highs and lows. Centennial variability in western equatorial Pacific SST is a result of the strong asymmetry of interannual ocean heat content anomalies, while the eastern equatorial Pacific exhibits a lagged, Bjerknes-like response to temperature and convection in the west. The extratropical counterpart is shown to be a flux-driven response to the hemispherically symmetric circulation anomalies emanating from the tropical Pacific.

Significant centennial-length trends in the zonal SST and SLP gradients rivaling those estimated from observations and model simulations forced with increasing CO2 appear to be inherent features of the internal climate dynamics simulated by all three models. Unforced variability and trends on the centennial time scale therefore need to be addressed in estimated uncertainties, beyond more traditional signal-to-noise estimates that do not account for natural variability on the centennial time scale.

On page 17 of 19 in pdf edition of Karnauskas et al (2012), the Summary and Concluding Remarks includes (my boldface):

1) If nature exhibits such strong natural variability of tropical Pacific SSTs on centennial time scales, then assumptions that the observed trend over the past century to a century and a half is a response to radiative forcing are tenuous. It could in fact be that the observed trend over the past century and a half is merely reflective of internal variability. If so, it could strengthen or weaken in the future as the natural variability evolves. This will combine with, and potentially interact with, any forced response and thus have implications for tropical Pacific and global climate.

2) If the centennial variability in the models is spurious, then it nevertheless is a robust component of the three analyzed models, is likely to exist in other models, and therefore will continue to influence coupled GCM projections of future climate, as well as initialized decadal hindcasts and forecasts conducted with GCMs. In all cases, it must be known at what stage the natural centennial variability exists at the beginning of a forecast or projection to isolate the forced change from the modeled internal variability.

Ocean heat content data and satellite-era sea surface temperature data both confirm the warming of the global oceans occurred naturally.

Thanks to blogger cohenite for reminding me about Karnauskas et al (2012).


Assumedly, to add credibility to his post, Dana Nuccitelli referred to the Foster and Rahmsorf (2011) paper “Global Temperature Evolution 1979–2010”. It too misrepresents the processes of El Niño and La Niña events. The blatantly obvious failings of Foster and Rahmsorf (2011) were illustrated and discussed in the post Revised Post – On Foster and Rahmstorf (2011).


In order to mislead the true-blue believers of human-induced global warming at SkepticalScience about the impacts of ENSO on global surface temperatures, Dana Nuccitelli redefined El Niño, La Niña and ENSO-neutral years. He also assumed that the 45 years of his analysis were evenly divided among those three ENSO phases, so that there were 15 each El Niño, La Niña and ENSO-neutral years. Replicating his results showed how his assumptions were flawed, because his new definition indicated that his newly defined ENSO index was skewed toward El Niño events during those 45 years.

And we discussed (previewed) how Dana Nuccitelli’s animated graph (Figure 1) was solely intended to misrepresent the long-term impacts of ENSO on the global surface temperature record. Then again, that’s nothing new for authors of posts at SkepticalScience.


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Bob, why do you read the pathetic site. If everyone ignored it, it would close down, the sooner the better.

Green Sand

There are issues when using the indexes.
Typically the situation that exists today and has led the BOM to post the following explanation :-

Southern Oscillation Index:
The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) has steadily increased over the past two weeks, mainly associated with higher than normal pressures in the tropical Pacific. This is considered to be largely a weather effect, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the boarder climate situation. The latest (10 March) 30-day SOI value is +9.5.
Sustained positive values of the SOI above +8 may indicate a La Niña event, while sustained negative values below −8 may indicate an El Niño event. Values of between about +8 and −8 generally indicate neutral conditions.


Excellent review. Not being a climate scientist, I had assumed that these events were well-defined or at least were classified in well-understood events. Apparently not.


Dana1981’s /Meaningless, what else is there to say .
In all religions ‘true believers’ have tired to redefine reality to suit their views , SS is just following a very well laid down path .

jonny old boy

Dana Scully holds more interest for me if I am honest… :0)


I have only given this a cursory examination- but if I read it correctly, he basically assigns colder years to La Nina, warmer to El Nino, and then acts surprised when they line up that way?

I agree with cementafriend, above.
The site is well named, however –
one should certainly be skeptical that there is any science there.


Talking about the ocean heat content. Have anyone else noticed that warm saline atlantic water sink to very large depths inte very cold deep water?
Very strange and very worrying. Thermohaline circulation is not expected to behave like this.
Global temperature at 700 meter:
Atlantic temperature at 700 meter
Temperature at 1000 meter:
And salinity also at 1000 meter:
This warm water was supposed to heat NW Europe before it sink into the abyss in the arctic.
Seems that conditions for warm water to sink deep is not common in the Pacific.

Dana’s exercise wasn’t meaningless. His intention was to make sure his readers understood his rendition of ENSO. Whether it was right or not didn’t matter. .


It’s totally stupid to assume ex ante that there is the same number of El Nino, neutral and La Nina years in the last 45 years ! Or very misleading…


Hey hey hey HEY! MUCH too Ad Hom!
This is NOT appropriate, pull this down and re-write in a more scholarly manner. I font care if you disagree – that’s fine. But do so in a gentlemanly manner!!


So, a region of the Earth’s ocean is warming due to the sun shining. Pity this graph does not correct for air pressure; they could do better than that. Interestingly, this ocean area is also slap bang over where the crust is expanding by far and away the fastest.
However, it seems to reflect the natural warming graphs of the rest of the World, like the dip in the ’70’s and our present decadal flatline where C02 has increased from 370 to 396ppm.
C02 must try harder! hahaha

Rick K

Bob, just a note of thanks for your dedication and willingness to investigate and explain this information and make it easily accessible and understood by the layman. Much appreciated!


OUCH! That ones gotta hurt, as ever great work Bob.Some people should learn not to touch things they don’t understand.
Hope Anthony invite Dan to post his reply here as well as Schleptical Science.

Lew Skannen

Poor old SkS. They are really not having much luck this week.
Identifying Richard Betts (Head of the Climate Impacts at the Met office) as the arch-satan of the climate denial conspiracy didn’t help and now Dana appears to be a few cycles short of an ENSO…


Ooops Typo
Should read> Hope Anthony invites Dana to post his reply here as well as at Schleptical Science.


I think the deception here is much simpler. The problem currently for the SS crowd is that there are 15 years of steady temps at the end of the time series creating a flatlined trend. 15 years looks like a long time!
How to fix that? Hmm. Perhaps if we divide the data into three buckets, then each bucket would only have 5 data points at the end that might appear flattish. Yeah! That’s the ticket!
You could have done any even split of the data to get the same effect. I am surprised they didn’t split things up into 15 buckets to really disappear the stall. If the flat line continues, look for the number of buckets to increase! LOL.


Dana does the best he can with what he has left. He suffers from Skeptical Science Syndrome, and it is probably terminal in his case.
We can only wish him well during his wanning time.

DD More

Question on your Fig 5. – You show neutral at 0, but averaging the numbers for ‘neutral’ in Table 1, I got a value of 0.1372612? Did I miss add?
I also alway question the global surface temperature curves these guys use. Are these ‘adjusted’ or raw numbers, knowing how manipulated some are.

Bill Illis

If you are going to use the ENSO, it really has to be done on monthly basis. The annual figures just more-or-less lead one to an inaccurate conclusion or don’t work good enough.
I always use monthly numbers with a 3 month lag, global temperatures lag behind the ENSO by 3 months, but others have used other forms of lags, accumulated impacts.
Dana Nuccitelli plays around with the base numbers more than anyone else I have ever come across in this debate. I mean, more than anyone. And there have been a lot of players in this field that have done so before. So to be the worst is really saying something. But then, the warmers kind-of like their information to be distorted so that it supports the belief system so he is popular now with the warmers.
For example, he is supposed to get his own blog or at least posting privileges on the UK Guardian Environmental Blog.

Bernie McCune

This whole exercise discussed here is based on a very shortened dataset (in timescale). Because of Pacific Decadal Oscillations that tend to be 50 to 60 years long (at least in the recent past), looking back one hundred years or more is much more appropriate for “climate change” considerations. I found a nice piece of work by Joseph D’Aleo and Don Easterbrook at SPPI that gives a much broader yet concise picture (quite meaningful) of the issues that should be interesting to anyone looking into ENSO climate related issues. Here:
to download as a PDF.

john robertson

Nice work Bob, seems to me Dana is desperate for attention or jealous of the latest hokey stick and wanted to contribute his own pile of marcott.
Its good that you are observing the “action” at SS somebody has to what the looneys.

john robertson

Watch the loony.


Bob –
You might have just said “Dana, you ignorant slut!” (Referencing Point-Counterpoint by Jane Curtin and Dan Akroyd on SNL years back).
Specifically, the phrase “… confirms his limited understanding of … ENSO …. or his willingness to misrepresent them” has NO place in this discussion. Its a view (perhaps valid) – but has no place in a technical discussion.
Ratchet it back, bucko. No need for that.

I can’t even take Dana Nuccitelli seriously about anything. His article “China Takes a Leading Role in Solving Climate Change” has to be the most preposterous article I have ever read. If I were a AGW believer, the last thing I would do is praise China for anything relating to climate change. China is ramping up building coal power plants as fast as it can. And it merely throws some lip service to the global warming crowd to keep them at bay.
Now, of course, I agree with what China is doing. They are bringing people out of poverty. Those coal power plants are saving lives. But Dana couldn’t write a convincing argument to save his life.


I concur with lear dog. No need to put meaningless into every graph. This climate war is won by cold analyses, not intentionally pissing people off.
When we have the data to prove some AGW over the top stuff wrong, lets just use the data. Usually its better just better to ignore SS. That site is blatantly biased.

Reed Coray

On another note, July 2012 was the hottest winter month ever in Dallas, Texas.
Dana seems to have taken Mark Twain’s comment “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco” as science rather than humor.

Reed Coray

LearDog says: March 21, 2013 at 8:04 am wrote:
Bob –
You might have just said “Dana, you ignorant slut!” (Referencing Point-Counterpoint by Jane Curtin and Dan Akroyd on SNL years back).
Specifically, the phrase “… confirms his limited understanding of … ENSO …. or his willingness to misrepresent them” has NO place in this discussion. Its a view (perhaps valid) – but has no place in a technical discussion.
Ratchet it back, bucko. No need for that.

Ratchet it back, bucko. Now there’s a phrase worthy of any scientific discussion.

Henry Galt

LearDog says:
March 21, 2013 at 8:04 am
They are the reasons for the post. Not ad-hom either(in my not-so-humble opinion)
Thanks Bob.

SatiricalScience seems to be a better name. Much more accurate.

John Kosowski says March 21, 2013 at 8:11 am
I can’t even take Dana Nuccitelli seriously about anything. His article “China Takes a Leading Role in Solving Climate Change” …

Are you series? Did he actually write that up? Like he was on the PAYROLL or something? LOL … btw nearly lost a cup of coffee on the desktop on that one … some of this stuff just *cannot* be made up!
Courtesy of Zerohedge:
“Nine Pollution Picture Perfect Days In Beijing” (originally sourced from Reuters)


If it’s okay to redate, certainly redefining is no less acceptable as long as it gives you the results you want. After all it’s in the tradition of hiding the decline, upsidiing the proxies, switching the sign and fudging the stats. Sounds like these “calls” could incorporated into a great square dance routine.

Bernie McCune

I completely agree with you that PDO is an after effect of ENSO. I only started looking at all the ENSO related issues because I had done a quick look analysis of long term NM temperatures in 2007 using as many stations that I could find (with at least 100 years of decent data) to determine whether global warming was affecting us here. I found a 60 year pattern in the NM temp data that was slightly out of phase of recent PDO cycles. One rural station that I now like to cite when discussing the effects of global warming on NM is Cimarron, NM which has the PDO pattern as well as a flat temperature signature over a period from 1905 until now. Of course, short term annual average temp fluctuations for all NM sites are dramatic – +/- 3 or 4 degrees over every 7 or 8 years. I did a quick analysis of annual average Japanese temps for several stations and found similar patterns but with plots of temps that were out completely (180 deg exactly) of phase with NM plots – and closer to PDO cycles (in phase)?!! I do not presume to really know why any of this is so (except that ultimately “it is the sun dummy”) and I will continue to look at all your excellent efforts to try to teach myself. Including your list in your posting here. Thank you so much for your work.


I suggest that for convenience and accuracy we refer to Nuccitelli’s article as:
“Nuccitelli Offers Non-Standard ENSO”,
abbreviated as NONSENSO.

Jim says: “re you series? Did he actually write that up?”
I kid you not:


One thing makes sense on this approach to me. Instead of declaring a calendar year being El Nino or La Nina year based on first three months of the year and discarding whatever happens in the following nine, concentrating on what could be called “Nino season” and has the strongest effects of that season in the middle. 12-month sum of such period is definitely going to provide clearer image of effects of the corresponding Nino/Nina while still leveling out the annual period.


Bob. Great work as ussual. Many thanks.

Bill Illis

Regarding the latest post by Dumb Scientist on the AMO just reflects temperature and is not a cycle,
… here is Foster and Rahmstorf 2011’s methodology extended back in time (from their cherrypicked starting point) so that one can immediately see there is now an AMO cycle in it.
So the AMO is either a main driver of a 60 year cycle in temperatures (which probably varies some from the 60 year cycle) or it is a very good proxy for whatever is driving a 60 year temperature cycle.
Another interesting chart. The Northern Portion of the Gulf Stream which in this case is not detrended like the AMO index is. Now we have a real 60 year cycle that has no global warming trend in it. What is driving this pattern in the Northern Gulf Stream. Obviously, it is related to major Atlantic ocean circulation systems.
North Atlantic Ocean Heat Content appears to be cycling down now.


Thanks for the heads up on the Dana1981 article, Bob. A nice simple read, with basically one new figure to make a rather nice simple point.
Has anyone come with an idea of why there have been so many La Nina years lately?

Sorry, I do not agree with Lear dog.
I don’t see a problem with “confirms his limited understanding”. I thought Bob was very polite about it. Suggesting that someone has limited understanding gives an allowance of ignorance and room to improve. It’s where mistakes can live without heavy penalty. On the other hand, if it is assumed that Dana knows his stuff, the the conclusion must be reached that he is deliberately misleading (lying).
Either Dana has limited knowledge or he is deliberately misusing it. Which is it? Maybe we don’t actually know, in which case, it is far kinder and more lenient to allow Dana the possibility of having limited understanding.
Bob? Don’t change anything. If you “ratchet” it back any further, you’ll be bending over backwards. Don’t give in to every little criticism, it’s how tha activists cornered us in the first place, using our own sense of fairness and “political correctness” against us. “Confirms his limited understanding” is a long way from insulting and nothing to be ashamed about. Think of how they talk to and about us.
Some people would like to back us all the way into saying the alarmists are actually correct, even when they are not, simply because it would be “more polite” (then they’d claim the win). Bugger that! Tell ’em like it is.
Great article, by the way.