ENSO Basics: Westerly Wind Bursts Initiate an El Niño

This may seem like an unusual time to have this discussion. We’re presently in ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation)-neutral conditions, meaning the tropical Pacific isn’t experiencing an El Niño or a La Niña. And based on the ENSO-forecasting models, NOAA says “ENSO-neutral is expected into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014”. (See the NOAA weekly ENSO Update.)

But the question “what initiates an El Niño?” was raised again recently on the thread of a blog post at WattsUpWithThat, so I thought I’d bring the answer forward as a post.

This post includes 2 chapters of my book Who Turned on the Heat? The first is the basic discussion of the transition from ENSO-neutral conditions to El Niño (Chapter 3.5). I’m providing it for people who aren’t too familiar with the fundamental processes that take place during the evolution of El Niño events. The second chapter included in this post is the discussion of what initiates an El Niño beyond my usual basic description of “a weakening of the trade winds” (Chapter 4.15). There are many other topics discussed in Who Turned on the Heat? See the Table of Contents in the Free Preview.

# # #

3.5 The Transition from ENSO-Neutral to El Niño

While the tropical Pacific is in the ENSO-neutral phase, the trade winds push the warm water to the west so that sea level there is higher than it is in the east. The sea level would like to be the same height because of gravity, but the trade winds are holding all of that warm water in place. The trade winds are being reinforced by the warmer sea surface temperatures in the western tropical Pacific. Similarly, the warmer waters in the western tropical Pacific are being reinforced by the trade winds. They are providing positive feedback to one another (Bjerknes feedback). With the positive feedback, the tropical Pacific would tend to stay in the ENSO-neutral mode. Something has to force things to change.

The trade winds in the western Pacific are, like all winds, quite variable. They strengthen and weaken with changes in weather. The size and shape of the Pacific Warm Pool varies in response. However, under “normal” conditions, the trade winds continue to hold the warm water in the western tropical Pacific.

Suppose the trade winds were to weaken to the point, and weaken long enough, that they could no longer hold the warm water in place in the west Pacific Warm Pool. The water would slosh to the east.

That’s how an El Niño event starts. Figure 3-10 shows the ENSO-neutral conditions changing to El Niño.

Figure 3-10

As shown in Figure 3-10, the Equatorial Countercurrent in the Pacific carries the warm water eastward. Normally, it’s a relatively small current compared to the North and South Equatorial Currents, but during an El Niño, the Pacific Equatorial Countercurrent becomes much larger. See Figure 3-11.

Figure 3-11 presents maps that show the direction of the currents in the central portion of the tropical Pacific. The eastward-flowing Equatorial Countercurrent is shown in dark blue. The westward-flowing North and South Equatorial Currents are shown in the off-color green. The top map shows the relatively small Equatorial Countercurrent in December 1996, which was an ENSO-neutral month. The bottom map shows that it’s much larger near the peak of the 1997/98 El Niño in December 1997. The maps are available through the NASA Ocean Motion website, at their OSCAR webpage.

Figure 3-11

A couple of years ago, I used those maps of the tropical Pacific Ocean currents to create a series of animations that I presented on YouTube. The animations capture the strengthening of the Equatorial Countercurrent during the transition from ENSO-neutral phase to the 1997/98 El Niño phase and its subsequent weakening as the El Niño event transitions back toward ENSO-neutral. Because there are multiple animations showing different portions of the tropical Pacific, I’ll refer you to the post Equatorial Currents Before, During, and After The 1997/98 El Niño.

Figure 3-12 compares two ENSO-related variables: western equatorial Pacific trade wind strength and NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies, our ENSO index. The NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies have been scaled and inverted (multiplied by a scaling factor of -2.0) so that the variations in both datasets are in the same direction. That is, the El Niño events are now the large downward spikes. The western equatorial Pacific trade wind data is from the NOAA/Climate Prediction Center Monthly Atmospheric & SST Indices webpage. There it’s identified as “850 mb Trade Wind Index (135°East-180°West) 5°North-5°South West Pacific”. The Trade Wind Index data presented in the graph are the anomalies, which are the second group here. As illustrated, the El Niño events are preceded by significant drops in western equatorial Pacific trade wind strength.

Figure 3-12 RECAP

In Figure 3-11, we confirmed that the Equatorial Countercurrent enlarges during an El Niño, carrying the warm water from the Pacific Warm Pool eastward. The dark green curve of the trade wind anomalies leads the sea surface temperature in Figure 3-12. This confirms that a weakening of the trade winds in the western tropical Pacific happens a number of months before the NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies register the El Niño event. In other words, it takes a couple of months after the weakening of the west Pacific trade winds for the enlarged Equatorial Countercurrent to carry the warm water east so that it warms the sea surface temperatures of the NINO3.4 region.

We’ll expand on this discussion, introducing a phenomenon called a Kelvin wave, in “Chapter 4.8 Subsurface Temperature and Temperature Anomaly Variations in the Equatorial Pacific And an Introduction to Kelvin Waves” [not included with this blog post].

# # #

4.15 Further Discussion on What Initiates an ENSO Event

When Anthony Watts cross posts one of my blog posts about ENSO at his widely read blog WattsUpWithThat, a question that’s often asked is “What initiates an El Niño?” My reply is typically something to the effect of: An El Niño event is initiated by a weakening of the tropical Pacific trade winds. This allows the warm water that had been held in place in the west Pacific Warm Pool to slosh east.

Sometimes there’s the follow-up question “What causes the trade winds to relax?” My usual reply is: There are a number of causes and they vary.

This doesn’t satisfy some people who are looking for a single definite answer, but, unfortunately, it’s true. There are numerous scientific papers that discuss this fact. In this chapter, we’ll present relatively simple descriptions of the many factors that cause the relaxing of the trade winds.

A phenomenon known as a Westerly Wind Burst (WWB), also known as a Westerly Wind Event (WWE), accompanies the relaxed trade winds. If you wanted to investigate this further, those would be the phrases to use in your searches. There are multiple causes of Westerly Wind Bursts, including:

1. Cross-equatorial tropical cyclones in the western tropical Pacific. This refers to a time when one tropical cyclone exists north of the equator in the western tropical Pacific, while, at the same time, another tropical cyclone exists there but south of the equator. The tropical cyclone winds in the Northern Hemisphere rotate counterclockwise and in the Southern Hemisphere they’re clockwise. Between them, the winds would be traveling from east to west west to east. These are discussed in Keen (1982) The Role of Cross-Equatorial Tropical Cyclone Pairs in the Southern Oscillation.

2. A single cyclone and series of cyclones in the western tropical Pacific. These are discussed in Hartten (1996) Synoptic settings of westerly wind bursts.

3. Cold surges from mid-latitudes, discussed in Harrison (1984) The appearance of sustained equatorial surface westerlies during the 1982 pacific warm event

4. Convective cloud clusters associated with the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO). Refer to Zhang (1995) Atmospheric Intraseasonal Variability at the Surface in the Tropical Western Pacific Ocean.

As noted earlier, there are a plethora of other papers that discuss these factors. There is a good overall discussion in Vecchi and Harrison (2000) Tropical Pacific Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies, El Niño, and Equatorial Westerly Wind Events.

Then, after you’ve digested all of the factors that can trigger El Niño events, there’s a study that could shift your understanding once again. The paper is Yu et al (2003) Case analysis of a role of ENSO in regulating the generation of westerly wind bursts in the Western Equatorial Pacific. Yup, you read that title correctly. Yu et al (2003) found that ENSO can create favorable background conditions for westerly wind bursts. In other words, ENSO has the built-in ability to trigger itself.

RECAP

El Niño events are initiated by the relaxation of the trade winds associated with a single or a series of Westerly Wind Bursts in the western tropical Pacific. The causes of Westerly Wind Bursts are tropical cyclones (individual, multiple, and cross equatorial), cold surges from the mid-latitudes, and convection associated with the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), or a combination of them. To complicate things, there are indications that ENSO can create the background conditions that promote Westerly Wind Bursts.

[End of reprints from Who Turned on the Heat?]

Something to ponder before you argue that ENSO can’t create the conditions that help to initiate an El Niño, consider that Yu et al (2003) are considering low-frequency ENSO-neutral conditions to be a part of ENSO.

INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT THE EL NIÑO AND LA NIÑA AND THEIR LONG-TERM EFFECTS ON GLOBAL SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES?

Why should you be interested? Sea surface temperature records indicate El Niño and La Niña events are responsible for the warming of global sea surface temperature anomalies over the past 31+ years, not manmade greenhouse gases. I’ve searched sea surface temperature records for more than 5 years now, and I’ve searched ocean heat content records for more than 4 years, and I can find no evidence of an anthropogenic greenhouse gas signal. That is, the data indicates the warming of the global oceans has been caused by Mother Nature, not anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

For a further discussion, see the essay (pdf) titled The Manmade Global Warming Challenge. (It’s 42MB, but it’s free and worth the download time.)

Last year, I published my e-book (pdf) about the phenomena called El Niño and La Niña. It’s titled Who Turned on the Heat? with the subtitle The Unsuspected Global Warming Culprit, El Niño Southern Oscillation. It is intended for persons (with or without technical backgrounds) interested in learning about El Niño and La Niña events and in understanding the natural causes of the warming of our global oceans for the past 30 years. Because land surface air temperatures simply exaggerate the natural warming of the global oceans over annual and multidecadal time periods, the vast majority of the warming taking place on land is natural as well. The book is the product of years of research of the satellite-era sea surface temperature data that’s available to the public via the internet. It presents how the data accounts for its warming—and there are no indications the warming was caused by manmade greenhouse gases. None at all.

Who Turned on the Heat? was introduced in the blog post “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about El Niño and La Niña… …Well Just about Everything”. The Free Preview includes the Table of Contents; the Introduction; the beginning of Section 1, with the cartoon-like illustrations; the discussion About the Cover; and the Closing.

Please buy a copy. (Credit/Debit Card through PayPal. You do NOT need to open a PayPal account.) Simply scroll down to the “Don’t Have a PayPal Account” purchase option. It’s only US$8.00. Sales of my ebooks allow me to continue my research into human-induced and natural climate change and to continue to blog here at Climate Observations and at WattsUpWithThat?

Regards

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63 thoughts on “ENSO Basics: Westerly Wind Bursts Initiate an El Niño

  1. The ENSO prediction page you point to on the wuwt reference pages always seems to be such a scattergun image that someone somewhere has to be right.

  2. Agree 100% with this.
    ESRL Reanalysis V2 recently extended its Wind data back to 1871 and, perhaps not surprisingly, we find the Trade Wind and ENSO link remains extremely strong throughout that entire period.
    http://s14.postimg.org/68v62kvht/Trades_ENSO_1871.png
    One other little snippet, it is really the Western Pacific Trade Winds which have the most variability versus the Eastern Pacific. And then, the Western Pacific’s variability is much greater in the winter months. We have sometimes noted the ENSO tends to peak around Christmas and pondered why that is. It is because the Western Trades can be blowing “east or west” around this time while they are mostly to the west in the summer months and the eastern Pacific is almost always mostly to the west. A difficult to read chart but that is what it shows.
    http://s12.postimg.org/r23to2v6l/West_East_Pacific_Trade_Wind_Variability_Apr_201.png

  3. Sorry to be OT but Jerry Coyne at the “Why Evolution is True” website is celebrating being higher in the web ratings than “Watts up with that”, a ‘global warming denial website’ apparently. I like the WEIT website but Jerry doesn’t even seem to be aware that ‘Global Warming’ had to be rebranded as ‘Climate Change’ years ago.

  4. Atmospheric CO2 is not the cause of ENSO. ENSO is controlling the rate of accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. The emissions from this area are at least ten times all anthropogenic emissions.

  5. “That is, the data indicates the warming of the global oceans has been caused by Mother Nature, not anthropogenic greenhouse gases.”
    Well Mother Nature isn’t real so doubt it’s her 😉
    More seriously from reading this article I didn’t understand which natural process you think is causing the warming?

  6. Stonyground says: “Sorry to be OT but Jerry Coyne at the ‘Why Evolution is True’ website is celebrating being higher in the web ratings than ‘Watts up with that’…”
    Obviously, Jerry Coyne is misinformed or intentionally misleading his readers. Alexa ranking for ‘Why Evolution is True’:
    http://bobtisdale.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/alexa-whyevolutionistrue.png
    Alexa ranking for WattsUpWithThat:
    http://bobtisdale.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/alexa-wattsupwiththat.png

  7. It would seen likely that during an El Nino the rate of upwelling along the coast of the Americas from the deep ocean would be reduced, leading to an increase in surface temps due to reduced cooling.

  8. Bob, I was wondering if there is any linkage with the monsoon winds or are they disconnected such that one does not affect the other? Thx GK

  9. Super-informative, Bob. I always learn something new (to me) from your posts. For example:

    “In other words, it takes a couple of months after the weakening of the west Pacific trade winds for the enlarged Equatorial Countercurrent to carry the warm water east so that it warms the sea surface temperatures of the NINO3.4 region.”

    This little (big) clue allows us “under-studies” to recognize when conditions may be changing to El Nino.
    Thanks.

  10. Bob, I am not qualified to comment on your work, but can comment on the impact of “El Nino” events and the “Southern Oscillation Index” on public opinion in Australia.
    For years, we were regaled with spiels in every weather report (emanating from the BOM) about the “El Nino”. Now that it has gone, we hear nothing.
    Same goes for the the SOI. It used to be tremendously important, mentioned every day, but now we hear nothing about it.
    Bob, if you have a minute, what was it that was so compelling about the SOI?

  11. G. Karst says: “Bob, I was wondering if there is any linkage with the monsoon winds or are they disconnected such that one does not affect the other?”
    I haven’t studied the relationship, sorry. I seem to recall reading papers about the impacts of ENSO on monsoon winds, not vice versa, but that doesn’t mean there is not a monsoon wind to ENSO-initiation interaction.

  12. Johanna, the SOI is one of many indices used to indicate the strength, duration and timing of El Nino and La Nina events. Because El Nino and La Nina events have strong impacts on weather in Australia, it is used by the BOM when those conditions exist. With conditions in the tropical Pacific in the ENSO-neutral mode, the BOM simply doesn’t have a lot to report based on the SOI.
    Regards

  13. ferd berple says: “It would seen likely that during an El Nino the rate of upwelling along the coast of the Americas from the deep ocean would be reduced, leading to an increase in surface temps due to reduced cooling.”
    Bingo.

  14. fhhaynie says: “Atmospheric CO2 is not the cause of ENSO. ENSO is controlling the rate of accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. The emissions from this area are at least ten times all anthropogenic emissions.”
    ENSO influences the rate of CO2 accumulation: Do you have a source for “The emissions from this area are at least ten times all anthropogenic emissions”?
    Regards

  15. Geez, Bob, are you in competition with Mosher about drive-by cryptic comments?
    I asked you about why the SOI was considered to be so important that it was mentioned in our weather forecasts daily, explaining it was used to scare people for years, and you just said “oh, well, it’s one of those indicators that we experts use.”
    Thanks for nothing. And, if you can’t explain it it plain language, perhaps there is a faint possibility that you can’t, because while the concept of the SOI is thrown about, you consider it beneath your dignity to explain what it means, and why the BOM considered it to be so important.

  16. Why would anyone “argue that ENSO can’t create the conditions that help to initiate an El Niño”?
    Emergent phenomena usually contain short-lived positive feedback loops as initiators.

  17. It looks like the answer to the question “what initiates an El Niño?” is “We don’t know”, but at least now we know what it looks like from the top. I have a feeling there is a lot of vertical energy motion that we’re missing by not looking at the vertical motion (This is the realm of Willis’ thermostat hypothesis).

  18. I don’t know if anyone has really attempted to actually measure the rate of emmisions, but my calculations on seasonal changes in rates of accumulation at sources (ENSO area) and sinks (Arctic) suggests the global natural source and sink rates are around 20 times the anthropogenic emission rate. The IPPC claims these natural processes balance out and do not change with time and that anthropogenic emissions is the cause of the accumulation in the atmosphere. If you factor out seasonal variations and calculate a twenty-five month running slope to get a net rate of accumulation, you will produce a global signiture for atmospheric CO2 accumulation. This signiture clearly shows the strong el-Ninos with a lag of about six-months. It does not follow the signiture of anthropogenic emissions very well but the long term rates are about the same magnitude. Correlation isn’t cause and effect. The water vapor/CO2 reaction in thunder clouds is the controlling mechnism. Some one try to prove me wrong.

  19. @Bob,
    What the author of whyevolutionistrue actually said was:
    “My dream is fulfilled; this website has (temporarily) surpassed “Watts up with that?” —a global-warming denialist site—in popularity.”
    And he posts a graphic showing that that was true, for that particular day.
    Accurate and not at all misleading, if somehwhat trivial.
    @Stonyground, what do you think the “CC” in “IPCC” stands for, named in 1988?

  20. johanna: My apologies for not getting more fundamental.
    SOI stands for Southern Oscillation Index. It represents the sea level pressure difference between Tahiti and Darwin, Australia. Because El Nino and La Nina events are coupled ocean-atmosphere processes, they impact the sea level pressures in both locations.
    If you’d like further clarification, please be more specific with your next question.

  21. dp says: “It looks like the answer to the question ‘what initiates an El Niño?’ is ‘We don’t know…”
    Actually, they do good job of diagnosing after the fact as illustrated with the linked papers. But they can’t predict what will initiate one in advance.

  22. steven says: “How does JC’s stadium wave signal fit in?”
    The stadium waves are multidecadal signals and should not be evident on these timescales.

  23. Johanna, let me rephrase my original answer: El Nino and La Nina events can dominate weather patterns in Australia, both temperature and precipitation. The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is a metric the BOM uses to determine whether the tropical Pacific is in an El Nino or a La Nina state. They attempt to predict your local weather depending on whether the SOI indicates the ENSO event is strengthening or weakening, which in turn impacts weather in Australia.

  24. “El Niño events are initiated by the relaxation of the trade winds associated with a single or a series of Westerly Wind Bursts in the western tropical Pacific. The causes of Westerly Wind Bursts are tropical cyclones (individual, multiple, and cross equatorial), cold surges from the mid-latitudes, and convection associated with the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), or a combination of them. To complicate things, there are indications that ENSO can create the background conditions that promote Westerly Wind Bursts.”
    Been saying for years that the key indicator to el Nino is to watch trade wind anomalies. This is pretty much one of the primary things I look at. We currently have a westerly anomaly in the far Western Pacific. I would say right now that the probability is higher for El Nino development than La Nina based on the current state of the trades.
    http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/jsdisplay/plots/gif/sst_wind_anom_5day_jsd.gif

  25. Bob, thanks for responding. Believe it or not, I know what SOI stands for, what it means, and even that the BOM used it as a way of “predicting” our weather.
    But, you have just reverted to your original answer – it is a metric that we weather gurus use.
    My question is – why was this metric so meaningful that we had it in our weather forecasts for years? What is it? Why was it made so important? How come, for years, we were told that the “Southern Oscillation Index” was doing this or that by our weather forecasters? And then, suddenly, all that disappeared?

  26. Bob Tisdale says:
    October 23, 2013 at 8:26 am
    “dp says: “It looks like the answer to the question ‘what initiates an El Niño?’ is ‘We don’t know…”
    Actually, they do good job of diagnosing after the fact as illustrated with the linked papers. But they can’t predict what will initiate one in advance.”
    Diagnosing after the fact is an analytical task. Models and time-series analysis are very useful in this kind of activity. Scientific prediction is grounded in well confirmed physical hypotheses. No prediction means no science. The answer to the question is: “We don’t know.”

  27. I don’t see how warm water sloshing around in the Pacific can affect the earth`s temperature as a whole .Redistribute and cause local changes of course but the temperature of the planet as a whole ?? For this heat has to either appear or disappear not just change its locale from one part of the Pacific to another.

  28. johanna says: “How come, for years, we were told that the ‘Southern Oscillation Index’ was doing this or that by our weather forecasters?”
    For years, we’ve had either El Niño or La Niña conditions or were transitioning between them.
    http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ensostuff/ensoyears.shtml
    johanna says: “And then, suddenly, all that disappeared?”
    Recently, we’ve been stuck in ENSO-neutral conditions: not El Niño and not La Niña.
    Is your question, why are we now in ENSO neutral conditions after years of being in one extreme (El Niño) or the other (La Niña)?

  29. Johanna:
    The mental link that has not been made explicit here is that, as a pressure index, SOI is intimately connected with the forces that drive geostrophic winds, of which the trades are a component.

  30. Christopher Corvin:
    You’re correct. Mere sloshing of the Pacific basin (a la standing wave) will not change the SSTs at all. That concept should not be confounded with changes in true currents and in upwelling intensity brought about by changes in prevailing winds.

  31. Here in Victoria, Australia we have had an unusually windy season in the last 4 months we have almost had constant nor-westers or westerly gales since the end of spring. Cold fronts and lows passing to the south of the continent.

  32. Christopher Korvin says: “I don’t see how warm water sloshing around in the Pacific can affect the earth`s temperature as a whole . Redistribute and cause local changes of course but the temperature of the planet as a whole ?? For this heat has to either appear or disappear not just change its locale from one part of the Pacific to another.”
    There’s a little bit more involved than a simple sloshing back and forth. ENSO impacts global surface temperatures in a number of ways:
    (1) During “normal” conditions, the sea surface temperatures in the western tropical Pacific are much warmer than they are in the eastern tropical Pacific. Because there’s so much warm water in the western tropical Pacific, there’s a lot of convection, cloud cover and precipitation there. In fact, that area is one of primary sources of moisture in the atmosphere. “Normal” jet stream locations are impacted by the all of the warm water being located in the western tropical Pacific.
    During an El Niño, all of that warm water shifts ¼ to almost ½ way around the globe (the width of the tropical Pacific). The jet streams are changed from their “normal” locations. As a result, some places around the globe warm and others cool during an El Niño (without a direct exchange of heat from the tropical Pacific), with more places warming than cooling.
    (2) During an El Niño, warm surface and subsurface waters from the western tropical Pacific are spread across the surface of the eastern tropical Pacific. With more of the surface of the tropical Pacific covered by the warmer water, the tropical Pacific releases more heat than normal into the atmosphere, primarily through evaporation. As the moist air later condenses into rain, it then heats the atmosphere. Atmospheric circulation carries that heat poleward, where it is discharged to space easier.
    Before the El Niño, the warm water below the surface of the western tropical Pacific was excluded from the surface temperature record. During the El Niño, that warm water is now included in surface temperature record. The El Niño does not consume all of the warm water, so the left over warm waters are distributed around the globe by ocean currents and continue to be included in the surface temperature record.
    (3) The La Niña that follows an El Niño typically recharges part or all of the warm water released by the El Niño and redistributed in the El Niño’s wake. (And some La Niñas can create more warm water than was released by the El Niño.) The coupled ocean-atmosphere processes that accompany a La Niña accomplish this by reducing cloud cover over the tropical Pacific, which allows more sunlight than normal to enter and warm the tropical Pacific to depth (about 100 meters with most sunlight being absorbed in the top 10 meters).
    In this respect, ENSO acts as a chaotic, sunlight-fueled recharge (La Niña)-discharge (El Niño) oscillator.
    Therefore, during multidecadal periods when El Niño events are releasing more heat and more warm water than “normal” from the tropical Pacific, ENSO causes global surface temperatures to warm. They have to warm. On the other side of the coin, during multidecadal periods when there are a lack of El Niño events, the tropical Pacific is releasing less heat and redistributing less warm water than normal, and global surface temperatures warm less—or cool.

  33. Resourceguy says: “And a flu pandemic extension to the story is here—-
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120116154457.htm”
    Thanks for the link. They begin the press release for “Does La Niña Weather Pattern Lead to Flu Pandemics?” with:
    “Worldwide pandemics of influenza caused widespread death and illness in 1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009.”
    Giese et al (2009) blames the 1918 flu pandemic on the 1918/19 El Niño:
    http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/people/gilbert.p.compo/Gieseetal2009.pdf
    And as far as I know, there was no La Niña during the 1917/18 season.
    http://bobtisdale.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/long-term-oni-like-table-of-el-nino-and-la-nina-events/
    Regards

  34. Joanna,
    You seem to be asking a political question, as to why the SOI is not being talked about as much in the media or by government bureaucrats as it has been in the past, rather than a scientific one. That is probably beyond Bob’s area of expertise.

  35. Bob Tisdale:
    I’m curious. What has seeing your phenomenological reply to Christopher Korvin to do with my purely dynamically based remark to him?

  36. Bob;
    It seems Coyne was rated higher for one day, yesterday, so he says “Now I can die happy”. He specified “temporarily”. Wasn’t claiming anything beyond that.

  37. Weather Dave
    Re BoM and SOI. They do address SOI and Nino 3.4 each week via their climate notes. Nino 3.4 is a sea temperature based measurement and is also a geographical area in the eastern south pacific. For a while now it has been given more weight than SOI but as Bob pointed out the measurement of ENSO uses many indicators; but these two are the most important. If BoM is not discussing this with the public its beyond me why. It’s available on the internet by BoM for all to read. Other indicators are addressed as well.
    I forecast weather for cruising yachts in the SW Pacific and don’t understand one of the comments regarding westerly trade wind anomolies in this area. We have traveling Anticyclones and in conjunction with the semi permanent High just west of south america the Trade winds are created. Between each High there is always an ‘intra-anticyclonic trough’ and often a cold front from a more southerly Low. These produce winds from a westerly quadrant and are transient. This has been the sequence (usually every 7 days give or take) and ‘always’ has been, so I would not refer to it as an anomaly. Now in the northern hemisphere every now and again the Islands from the Marshalls westward also experience westerlies for very brief periods particularly in the northern winter. These don’t last long at all and usually relate to a trough extending toward the equator.; sort of an analog to that of the southern hemisphere. It dissipates as it heads east usually near the dateline.
    Thanks Bob Tisdale for your efforts. I do plan on purchasing your book. I hope in it you elaborate more on the so called Westerly bursts affecting the western south pacific during the southern peak summer which are of course from the Huge High in Southern Asia. This is the cause of the ‘Monsoon’ winds and conditions in northern Australia and Islands to the north as these winds cross the equator and turn left thanks to coriolis. This of course creates a tremendous clashing with the SE Trades as I’m sure you know.

  38. Bob, thanks again for an interesting post, and commendable patience replying to various comments and questions.
    I am curious about the “Unisys” Current sea surface temperature anomaly plot as shown in the WUWT ENSO page. Although, as you point out we are currently ENSO neutral, over the last couple of months there seems to have been much more “blue” (ie cold anomaly) areas in the southern ocean than usual. THis is particularly so for the South Atlantic and the southwest Indian Ocean where the Agulhas Current originates and flows down the east coast of Mozambique and South Africa.
    Any significance to this or is it just another indication, along with increasing Antarctic ice, that the southern hemisphere seems cool (and despite record warmth in Australia in September)?

  39. Bob Tisdale says:
    October 23, 2013 at 8:26 am
    dp says: “It looks like the answer to the question ‘what initiates an El Niño?’ is ‘We don’t know…”
    Actually, they do good job of diagnosing after the fact as illustrated with the linked papers. But they can’t predict what will initiate one in advance.

    So, as I said, we don’t know. It’s really ok to say “we don’t know” and that is because we don’t. The root cause is out there and as unknown as the feedbacks of CO2.

  40. Keith, looking at the data for the Southern Hemisphere, there doesn’t seem to be anything unusually cool for the most current month (September):
    http://bobtisdale.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/06-s-hem-ssta.png
    That’s from the most recent SSTa update:
    http://bobtisdale.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/september-2013-sea-surface-temperature-sst-anomaly-update/
    The weekly data for the latitudes of 90S-30S are showing an anomaly near zero, but even that’s not unusual for the mid-to-high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere:
    http://nomad3.ncep.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/pdisp_sst.sh?ctlfile=oiv2.ctl&ptype=ts&var=ssta&level=1&day=03&month=jan&year=1990&fday=16&fmonth=oct&fyear=2013&lat0=-90&lat1=-30&lon0=-180&lon1=180&plotsize=800×600&dir=

  41. Bob, sorry if I was grumpy in my last round of questions. I appreciate the work you do, and your willingness to interact with people about it, very much. It has taught me a lot.
    My questions arose from the fact that the SOI was used as a proxy for drought conditions for years during the height if the CAGW scare. Now that the dry years are behind us (temporarily – this is Australia) we don’t hear anything about it, when it used to be a feature of every weather forecast on the ABC and many commercial stations.
    If I understand you correctly, the SOI is a subset, or perhaps an indicator, of what ENSO is doing. At present, things are pretty quiet, so you say that there is nothing to report, hence no reporting.
    That is fair enough, on its face, and thanks for clarifying it. But, it does make me think that weather reports are much more politicised than many people realise. It would undermine the disaster narrative to admit that the SOI isn’t doing much, so they just deleted it. I fully expect it to return when the next dry spell comes along – provided, of course, that it is doing what they expect it to do.
    Judy Curry has a thread going about the Australian bushfires, where someone has posted historical data which allegedly demonstrates that El Nino/La Nina events do not necessarily correspond with droughts, and the high temperatures and hot westerly winds that typically accompany major fire events in Australia. I had a look at it, and it seems kosher to me (but I’m no expert and may well be wrong).
    Anyway, there is a lot to learn about the building blocks of climate, and you are more than doing your bit in that regard.

  42. Christopher Korvin says: “I don’t see how warm water sloshing around in the Pacific can affect the earth`s temperature as a whole . Redistribute and cause local changes of course but the temperature of the planet as a whole ?? For this heat has to either appear or disappear not just change its locale from one part of the Pacific to another.”
    Christopher, have a look at global stratospheric jet streams. All that looping and streaming is being acted on by oceanic/atmospheric teleconnections. So you bet sloshing in one ocean area can affect weather patterns all around the globe. And since those teleconnections have decadal swings, patterns can develop that stick around for a while.
    http://squall.sfsu.edu/crws/jetstream.html

  43. dp, I can diagnose what set off a teenage snit. But I can’t predict what will set off the next one.

  44. ferd berple says:
    October 23, 2013 at 6:12 am
    It would seen likely that during an El Nino the rate of upwelling along the coast of the Americas from the deep ocean would be reduced, leading to an increase in surface temps due to reduced cooling.
    ++++++++++
    Yes the upwelling along the East (Western Americas) is reduced, so they is less cold water in the equatorial regions… and more clouds there too as a result. However, during an El Nino, the warm water that surfaces spreads all around and that is what causes most of the “global increases in temperature.”

  45. Christopher I also forgot to mention that both cold and warm currents interweave in ocean layers. Sometimes a cold current is forced over the top of a warm one, and sometimes a warm one is forced over the top of a cold one. Winds are mostly responsible for this because when the surface waters are calm, currents stay within their normal layered course until they reach a barrier of some kind, which once again forces these currents to fight for position. So yes, the heat can appear and then disappear on the ocean surface in several places.

  46. @sloshing
    I’ve always been curious as to whether and how warm water has to “slosh” half way round the world from the west to east Pacific, to give the elevated SSTs off Peru in an el Nino. Has anyone ever tried to surf this slosh? Is it not however also possible that east Pacific warming in el Nino is due to curtailment of normal cold upwelling off Peru.
    I’m further curious as to why there seems to be some taboo about mentioning the word UPWELLING in relation to ENSO and el Nino.

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