The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 16 – Is There Still Hope for a Moderate El Niño?

Guest post by Bob Tisdale

I’ll provide the September update in a week or so, but I found the following interesting.

According to the animation of subsurface temperature anomalies along the equatorial Pacific, which is available from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center Equatorial Pacific Temperature Depth Anomaly Animation webpage, another downwelling (warm) Kelvin wave may be forming in the western tropical Pacific…without an offsetting upwelling (cool) Kelvin wave between this one and the last.

Figure 1 is the most recent equatorial cross-section from the current animation. I’ve added a note to it as well. Already, subsurface anomalies west of the dateline are in the +1 to +2 deg C and +2 to +3 deg C ranges. Because the water is normally cooler in the eastern equatorial Pacific, those subsurface anomalies will intensify as they travel eastward. While the warm waters lose some of their punch as they rise to the surface, (it’s normally warmer at the surface) they still may be warm enough for a moderate El Niño…assuming the atmospheric feedbacks kick in.

Figure 1

Figure 1

And the following is the most recent animation in full.


NOAA Equatorial Pacific Temperature Depth Anomaly Animation

Amazing. I didn’t even try to promote my book about ENSO. It’s still on sale at $5.00 and is available only in pdf form here.

That’s all, folks.

66 thoughts on “The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 16 – Is There Still Hope for a Moderate El Niño?

  1. Bob, you have to live forever and continue your great instruction on ENSO. Or please tell me you have someone in training to carry on! I own two PDF books! 🙂

  2. Is there still hope ?
    There is always hope , however, looking at the UNISYS Current Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly Plot ( 3 OCT ) I would say NO, no el nino, sorry, not gonna happen.
    However, it is really amazing how that small pool of quite warm surface water SW of Baja CA has spun cyclones or cyclone wannabes all summer. And pitty the poor Phils, typhoons have been having their way with the islands. That’s a lot of energy headed off to space.

  3. Bob, thanks for the update. I always particularly enjoy your posts on projections of what to expect in the ocean.
    I have a question. You use government data (and I don’t think there is any alternative) to make your projections. I have discovered that there is so much observation bias and outright tampering in the various data sets that I am very skeptical that we ever get honest data. So my question is: can we trust these NOAA data and, if so, to what degree can we trust their data? I hope this is not a totally silly question.

    • Darn. “always particularly enjoy your posts”. I should be banned from this site for bad grammar. 🙁
      “enjoy” = “enjoyed” … Thank God my 5th grade teacher has long gone on to her richly deserved reward and did not live to see me on the internet.

    • markstoval, a lot of skepticism can be fueled by unexplained changes to the global surface temperature record (like the recent minor tweak to GISS LOTI) that increase recent short-term trends, especially when the climate science community is having trouble explaining the pause and they’re looking for new record highs.
      But what would anyone gain by altering the 5-day averages of subsurface temperatures of the equatorial Pacific when all they’re used for is the study of ENSO?

      • the problem is subconscious bias. if we believe temperatures are going up, then if an error makes temperatures go up we are less likely to spot the error than an error that makes temperatures go down.
        over time this results in an error bias in the direction of belief, making us believe that there is a trend in the data that confirms our beliefs. however, the trend is not in the data, it is in the error.
        we fail to see this because we assume that error is random, that 1/2 the time it will be positive, and 1/2 the time it will be negative, but in fact this is only true in the most carefully designed experiments.
        a key item in removing error bias is double blind controls on data. for example, use a computer to randomly invert 1/2 the temperature anomalies, and then apply your adjustments. once the adjustments are made, have the computer restore the inverted anomalies.
        if you adjustment algorithm is correct, there should be no change in the trend as compared to adjusting temperatures where no inversion was carried out, no matter how many times you ran this check.
        However, I see no evidence that climate science has applied even this simple data quality control test.

  4. Thanks for the update Bob,
    “…. they still may be warm enough for a moderate El Niño…assuming the atmospheric feedbacks kick in.”
    As I’ve pointed out before, if there is a feedback, there is not a choice of whether it “kicks in”. A feedback is a feedback and will always be present. If it is not always present then it is not a feedback. It may be some other, independent, physical effect that either does or does not happen in sync with a Kelvin wave.
    The mainstream explanation of ENSO is about as convincing as their account of global warming.

    • Greg says: “As I’ve pointed out before, if there is a feedback, there is not a choice of whether it “kicks in”. A feedback is a feedback and will always be present.”
      Curiously, I don’t recall you pointing it out before. Are you questioning Bjerknes feedback? Are you questioning the impacts of westerly wind bursts on the evolution of El Ninos? If so, feel free to elaborate.
      There are numerous factors that can prevent the trade winds from responding as one would expect, which is the feedback I was referring to. This is weather, Greg. It’s chaotic. If the trade winds respond, the El Nino should evolve into a stronger event. If they don’t (which already happened this year), then the chance of an El Nino drops.

    • Not sure what you mean about “a feedback is a feedback”. In controls theory at least, a feedback loop can be controlled by most any function or functions the designer chooses. The feedback may be either positive or negative, its amplitude may be a linear or non-linear multiple of the controlled variable and the point at which it “kicks in” may be determined by a myriad of factors outside the loop in question. What it may not be is “random”.

      • Thanks for a fuller technical description. I think this is the point Bob is making too.
        Yes, f/b can be +ve or -ve; linear / non-linear but if if is present it is always there. If the myriad other things may stop it happening they are most decidedly not outside the loop but part of it.
        What you are describing is a situation where it is one of the “myriad” other factors that is controlling the system. If something else is controlling the f/b then the description of the f/b is fundamentally incomplete.
        If the Bjerkness feedback is there it must always be there, otherwise it’s not a f/b. If some other process is controlling whether or not the Bjerkness f/b “kicks in” or not then it is that other process that needs to be identified and understood, for that is the key driver that is controlling ENSO.
        That is why I do not find the mainstream account of what causes ENSO to be any more convincing than their AGW. They say CO2 is the control knob except that it has not had any effect over the last 18y when the knob has been tweaked harder than ever before.
        Once a +ve f/b is present in a system it does not take much to trigger it since it is self amplifying. This generally causes a system to latch into one state or another until driven hard the other way. I don’t see this happening in ENSO.
        ENSO variation seems better described as having separate drivers, that sometimes oppose and other times act in unison. In fact. spectral analysis suggests a circa 28 year modulation of a lunar driven 4.4 year cyclic variation.
        The classic description of ENSO showing a periodicity of “between 3 and 5 years” is a clumsy failure to understand how simple amplitude modulation manifests. It is _both_ 3 and 5 5 year cycles superimposed, which is mathematically identical to the amplitude modulation I have described.
        I think that Bob is quite right that changes in ENSO are are a major cause of inter-decadal warming and cooling. The question them becomes what is driving ENSO, and I don’t believe it causes itself. That is a lame explanation. In fact, it’s teh abdication of any attempt at an explanation.

  5. It is curious that there is an approximate 3 knot easterly current between 100m to 200m but the surface seems not to move much in comparison. Assuming of course that distinct parcels of water can be identified by their temperature.

    • the equatorial counter current is a river of water that typically lies below the surface. mariners have often speculated on using a drogue to harness the counter current to move east against the prevailing trades.
      sailing south from Palmyra to Samoa we were amazed by the sudden drop in air temperature as we sailed over the counter current. as we passed over, our “meat line” hooked a juvenile blue marlin, about 3 feet in length, and we had a very tasty BBQ.
      one of the mysteries of science is the question of where the blue marlin spends it juvenile years. perhaps this lonely spot in the middle of the Pacific holds the key.

  6. Thanks Bob.
    Feedbacks in climate are all negative to reduce the overall heat input from the sun. Cloud formation being one multi facetted one, water vapour formation cools the surface through latent heat need, convecting air removes heat to the cooler upper troposphere where it radiates to space and the clouds themselves reduce surface insolation and increase albedo.

    • Well thank our lucky stars that they aren’t positive. If they were positive we most likely would not be here to talk about it. Pure speculation on my part but I think, like a vacuum, nature abhors a positive feedback.

      • Positive feedback mechanisms are reserved for Keynesian economics, liberal child rearing and education, Progressive policies… and anything else based in Marxist Socialism. All systems designed from the outset to incorporate positive feedback, or have positive feedback mechanisms added later, are actually designed to destroy whatever machine they are a part of.

      • All systems designed from the outset to incorporate positive feedback, or have positive feedback mechanisms added later, are actually designed to destroy whatever machine they are a part of

        Or to make it more responsive, provided they are bound by stronger -ve feedbacks.

      • Positive feed-back can be used to correct inherent problems. A well known concert hall in London depending on the size of the total audience changes its acoustic properties, despite design for each seat to have absorption spectrum of an average dressed person. This is an important factor in the classic music performances. Large number of acoustic positive electro-acoustic feed-back circuits is employed to achieve the optimum acoustic properties.
        Sorry I digress ….

      • dccowboy on October 4,
        2014 at 4:41 am
        Well thank our lucky stars
        that they aren’t positive. If
        they were positive we most
        likely would not be here to
        talk about it. Pure
        speculation on my part but
        I think, like a vacuum,
        nature abhors a positive
        brought to the point.
        but no, nature does’nt abhorr; it just lives the escalation of a nonlimited feedback to the point of no return. destroing / consuming it’s bases.
        gives: whoever lived through a real negative feedback ain’t left to tell about.
        brg Hans

      • AND:
        consumed / destroyed the conditions for the negative feedback it won’t happen again.
        brg Hans

      • MY FAULT:
        read ‘positive feedbacks’ instead of ‘negative’ – mismatch cause/effect:
        but no, nature does’nt
        abhorr; it just lives the
        escalation of a nonlimited
        feedback to the point of
        no return. destroing /
        consuming it’s bases.
        gives: whoever lived
        through a real /negative/positive
        feedback ain’t left to tell
        brg Hans
        johann wundersamer on
        October 5, 2014 at 7:45
        consumed / destroyed the
        conditions for the
        /negative/positive feedback it won’t
        happen again.
        brg Hans

      • Bob Tisdale,
        ‘That’s all, folks.’
        thx for a wilde ride Monday Morning.
        Great. Hans

    • Does this apply here? Just asking’.
      Le Chatelier’s principle, … or “The Equilibrium Law”, can be used to predict the effect of a change in conditions on a chemical equilibrium… It can be stated as: When a system at equilibrium is subjected to change in concentration, temperature, volume, or pressure, then the system readjusts itself to counteract the effect of the applied change…

      • An interesting point. Le Chatelier’s principle suggests that Climate Science is fundamentally mistaking the effects of feedback.
        Climate science assumes that a positive or negative feedback changes the equilibrium point. Le Chatelier’s principle suggests that positive and negative feedback change the length of time required to reach equilibrium.
        Support for this comes from econometric analysis of surface temperatures, that suggests that increasing CO2 does not result in permanent warming. Rather the effects are transitory, affecting the rate of change of the climate system, but ultimately leaving the equilibrium point unchanged.

      • Indeed Fred, this is in accord with what I said about +ve f/b making the system more responsive.
        Quoting from the Reference Frame link above:
        The principle says that
        .. reactions that determine the equilibrium values of many quantities – such as concentrations, temperature, pressure, or volume – respond to an external change so that they partially undo the initial external perturbation.
        My bold.

    • johnmarshall: “Feedbacks in climate are all negative to reduce the overall heat input from the sun.”
      Bjerknes feedback, which relates to Walker circulation and ENSO, is positive. That is, the temperature gradient from east to west along the equatorial Pacific and the strength of the trade winds reinforce one another.

  7. Steve in Seattle mentions the UNISYS sea surface temperature chart. It is currently the bluest (coldest) I recall seeing it since I’ve been looking at it courtesy of WUWT ENSO page. That is not to say that there are not areas showing positive anomalies too. Is it in any way unusual Bob, or all within normal variation?

    • A month or so ago it was about as ‘red’ as I’ve ever seen it, at least in the North Pacific at any rate. UNISYS recently (2-3 months ago) had to change to a different data feed (that I think allows greater resolution) and that may account, in some part, for the difference with past temp displays.

  8. “Is There Still Hope for a Moderate El Niño?” Here in Australia, the phrase is “Is there still fear of a moderate El Nino”. El Nino brings drought, of which Australian Farmers have seen enough. Let’s hope for La Nada or El Nono.

  9. Waiting for Joe Bastardy to weigh in, who’s been calling for a weak to moderate modoki event since early last spring. Admire your work tremendously Bob, and given your expertise…and avid interest…I’m guessing you two could have a mutually rewarding discussion. I’ve been a subscriber to joe’s long range weather forecasts and his record…especially concerning enso events is excellent. He’s currently chief forecaster over at Weatherbell.

  10. It looks like an ‘echo’ Nino –
    back up a little further and display the wave from March through June,
    lull from July through August, and now this smaller wave.
    The effect on global temperature may not have experienced the same lull that the tropical Pacific has.
    The circulation changes which reduce albedo are far more ‘nebulous’ and may have persisted through out.

    • Maybe it’s a chaotic state jump into a La Nina phase? Watch the SO pressure phase to see where this is going.

  11. Maybe this apparently unusual behavior of ENSO is what happens in a cooling off period in global temperatures. Is this unusual behavior – el Ninos trying and falling short?

  12. The sea-level pressure anomalies in May-June-July left little hope for more than a warm neutral condition. And the rainfall anomalies are also still in the west and in the ITCZ.

  13. “Support for this comes from econometric analysis of surface temperatures, that suggests that increasing CO2 does not result in permanent warming. Rather the effects are transitory, affecting the rate of change of the climate system, but ultimately leaving the equilibrium point unchanged.”
    ferdberple’s point above is interesting. I am not a scientist, but been in business. Needed to look at realities all my life. Never understood the Santer &Co insistence on the physics are clear, CO2 heats the atmosphere full stop. There is no such thing as a greenhouse here. It is all open at the top all round the Earth. I can appreciate that the excess heat may disappear at the top as the atmosphere attempts an equilibrium within a range of temperatures around the long term average. More compelling than CO2 is causing all or most of the warming, except for the last 18 years there has been no warming.

  14. “…may be warm enough for a moderate El Niño…assuming the atmospheric feedbacks kick in.

    Time to export about a gazillion butterflies to the appropriate area to kickstart the feedbacks..

  15. Thanks for the update Bob.
    The Kelvin waves continue – but so do the trades. They have been consistently strong.
    The natural time for an el-Nino type peak is December-January.
    In the current ocean configuration the Antarctic with its expanding sea ice is playing an important role. It cannot be ignored in discussions of ENSO.
    The figure below illustrates the fact that the THC (thermo-haline circulation) is dominated by the Antarctic which acts as its hub in three ocean branches, the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian:
    The cold emanating from the Antarctic sea ice edge is clear in the global SST map:
    I would not be surprised if the Antarctic effect somehow strengthened Peruvian upwelling via its effect on deep currents. Thus after an el-Nino like peak in the new year there could follow a strong La Nina cooling episode in the south-east Pacific.

      • Jeff – I agree it is a useful schematic of the THC conveying an important message at a glance I.e. Antarctica being “Grand central station”. I found it here:
        this website by Dan Dorritie has an alarmist theme about methane hydrates (plus AGW) which I don’t agree with. However it is well researched and this appendix on the THC is very good.
        Original sources of the figure are cited by I could not find then with a quick google-scholar search.

    • @phlogiston: This theme could be worth a discussion of its own. As a denizen of the SH, I watched and wondered when the SH convergence zones seemed to move north 6-10 degrees nearly a decade ago, and our weather started to cool. But I am old enough to remember the previous time. What interests me are the drivers if any, of this. Anyway, at the same time, crops were telling us that something was awry with the AGW meme…..Brett Keane

      • I agree – there os quite a lot of expertisehere at WUWT on the Antarctic situation e.g. RACooke – its worth watching closely.

  16. We need to call this the Zombie El Nino. The one that will not die! 😉
    Thanks again Bob. I read your El Nino posts as I learn something new every time.

  17. ntesdorf says:
    October 4, 2014 at 4:42 am
    hunter says:
    October 4, 2014 at 5:06 am
    One the fascinating things about participating here at WUWT, is the global perspective it brings. In California (and here in Texas) the hope is for an El Nino, which will bring much needed rain. In Australia an El Nino brings drought. It is hard to hope for something you know will bring misery to someone else. I guess the best we do is take the knowledge that folks like Bob Tisdale have developed and apply “forewarned is forearmed.”

  18. Mr. Tisdale
    I have looked at ENSO from various angles, and find classic view not entirely satisfactory.
    Here is what I propose:
    Your figure one shows start of donwelling at the east longitude.
    Atmospheric pressure at Port Moresby, 142 East should be able to tell us something about the ENSO.
    – change in the atmospheric pressure is caused by downwelling or
    – downwelling is initiated by the atmospheric pressure
    Waveforms of two are similar but not identical
    Spectral composition is almost identical for periods up to 8 or so years, then two diverge. What follows is plain and simple:
    Port Moresby atmospheric pressure has two dominant components:
    1. Sunspot cycle period at 11 years
    2. Lunisolar tides period 18.6 years
    I suggest that the way ENSO index is calculated inadvertently conceals true cause of the ENSO.
    Of course, I do not expect you, or possibly anyone else to agree.

  19. It is going to be interesting to see how low the ENSO index is going to fall this winter based on forecast of my artificial neural network?
    Is it going down to La Niña levels or is it going to stay in neutral conditions?
    My forecast was made in March 2013, while I had included, correctly, the double peak in solar activity. My projection for the solar electromagnetic variations for this year was still to low.
    The higher than I expected solar activity should have raised the ENSO index in my forecast somewhat for this winter above La Niña levels, but not much
    My current forecast excludes the possibility for an El Niño in the upcoming NH winter
    I expect that the next El Niño is going to emerge first about one year from now.

    • I think it will start building next spring, when the full moon perigee event is within a couple of days of the spring equinox. It was getting close this year which is what gave the false alert.

      • I think that you are spot on, although it is going to take some time before the MEI index reach El Niño levels. The MEI is going to turn around this winter.
        I’m not able yet to get the high frequency variations. In other words I’m not able to forecast when any Kelvin Waves are coming.
        But I think that is possible for me to do that by improving plans I have with the input data. I am going to do this improvement in the near future

    • Hat Tip to Bob Tisdale. I always appreciate his offerings, and I understand much of some of them. I think.
      & Per Sandberg,
      AND – if I understand their comments well [maybe not fully . . . .], it appears that they predict an El Niño in the coming year or so (-ish).
      Basis that, and given the propensity of an El Niño to increase global temperatures by a [small] fraction of a degree, F or C or R or K or whatever anyone uses, it seems to me that – if ( IF ) we get an El Niño, and global temps don’t rise much beyond reducing the Plateau [or the Pause] to [say] 16 years, then, even with an El Niño, the prognostications of doom of the Team would seem to be doomed.
      All doomed, indeed.
      Look – I’m a bum boatie – correct me if and where I’m wrong [as I’m sure I am, in detail, if not (I hope) in principle].

  20. I am Bobs biggest fan. As far as us, has no change in its idea of an enso 3.4 centered Modiki event. and the winter that will be the result. The overall evolution of the weather this summer, now fall is very close to one of the years we have been constantly harping on 09-10. Danger is that 76-77 event and stronger colder start to the winter is on the table. You are seeing the idea we put out in spring of the active se pac season and the hits on Mexico, increased southwest moisture for the fall in the warmingista perma drought area come true in spades.
    The physical drivers for the major enso event were never there. In addition the distortion of the pattern by the warmth of the N Pacific water I think has been overlooked, It was huge in our winter forecast last year. Think about what that has to mean as far as the mean SLP for the Pacific in the warm season and how that would inhibit the support for the time of global wind oscillation needed to link for the optimum chance to bring that warm water the the top. The cold water around Australia WAS A HUGE HINT along with the flip in the IOD.
    In any case I am happy with our ideas and feel flipping a bunch of times is not for us. So we keep what we have and hone in at the end, so if we do change, it will be once, not a dozen times. Once you change an idea, you cant go back and claim it was right if you changed it to something else. Given what I see, I like what we have out

    • As always, Joe Bastardi, thanks for the words of encouragement.
      Compared to you, I’ve got it easy. I simply report on what the data say. That is, I don’t make forecasts like you do. I report after the fact.
      One of these days I’ll wander down to that big city where you work and buy you a cup of coffee or two. I’m sure we’ll have something to laugh about.

  21. Joe Bastardi

    I apologize for not checking closely enough the computers auto correct, Hopefully the jibberish is legible enough so I get my point across

    [True, true. It was extremely difficult to follow: Though I think, after an effort, I was able to understand most of your previous reply. If you wish to retype it, and resubmit, we can delete the earlier “auto-fiddled-with” version. .mod]

  22. I have a question relative to the ENSO anomaly calculation. Let’s assume for discussion purposes that sunspots have some influence on the energy entering the oceans. That would mean an ENSO anomaly value at solar max should be different than one at solar minimum. In fact, it would be variable across all the variations in sunspot numbers.
    That might mean that our current value of around +.5 is not the same as a value of +.5 that would occur at solar minimum. Or, it is not the same as one that would have existed during a larger solar max. That could mean our measurement of official El Niño events is a little skewed.
    Has anyone tried to correct these values for sunspot numbers to see if it changes anything? For example, given our low solar max this year maybe the ENSO values should be increased by .5. That would likely cause the current neutral condition to become an official El Niño.
    This would also make it difficult to compare current conditions to historic ones during larger solar maximums/minimums. And, a succession of strong or weak solar cycles could also change the base anomaly value as well.

    • Richard M, one of the problems you’d find in trying to eek out a solar signal from ENSO data are cloud cover is an integral part of ENSO. Cloud cover over the equatorial Pacific varies greatly in response to ENSO, and in turn, the amount of downward shortwave radiation can vary as much as +/- 40 watts/m^2 (if memory serves) in some parts of the equatorial Pacific, when going from La Nina to El Nino.
      Somewhat along those lines, I can recall of group of papers a while ago that tried to find the direct impacts of sun-blocking volcanic aerosols on ENSO. They couldn’t find one.

  23. Not at all, this is quite similar to what I posted above, linking to this:
    The difference is that the MIE derived mainly from SOI is basically SH tropical variation. The trade wind data is equatorial and sees the lunar periods halved.
    I note a strong peak near 8.5y , this probably reflects the same thing as the 4.4y modulated peak I detected.
    Just guessing by eye I’d say the two peaks either side are about 6.25 and 12.5, that’s mean frequency of 8.3 modulated by 25.5, probably the same thing again, modulation.
    I’ll have to get the data but out of interest, what is your best readout of the those three peaks?

    • Just to clarify that, it’s a bit confusing not coming directly in reply to vuc’.
      It looks like 6.25, 8.5 and12.25 peaks on vuc’s graph. That triplet ( rough, eyeball guesses at his peaks ) would be 8.3 modulated by 25.5. This looks like it may be the same thing as I found : 4.4 modulated by 28 years. The lunar 8.85 perigee being doubled in the equatorial trade wind data.

  24. Many thanks to everyone who bought a copy of my ENSO book “Who Turned on the Heat?” in response to this post. I learned a lot writing it.

  25. Hi Bob,
    I’ve been reading that many Pacific fisherman are reporting large numbers of species are being seen in more northern locations and are adament that this is a pre-cursor for an El Nino event. As a California resident and snowboarder, I sure hope so. 1. for some much needed drought relief and 2. for the snowpack 🙂 I was wondering if you take signs such as this into consideration.
    All the Best

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