Close But No Cigar – NINO3.4 SST Anomalies Are a Tick (0.1 deg C) above La Niña Threshold

Guest Post by Bob Tisdale

This is a quick ENSO update.

NOAA’s weekly sea surface temperature anomaly data for the NINO regions (based on the original Reynolds OI.v2 data) are furnished on Mondays. Today’s update for the week centered on June 22, 2016 shows the sea surface temperature anomalies of the NINO3.4 region (5S-5N, 170W-120W), which NOAA uses to define El Niño and La Niña events and their strengths, are at -0.4 deg C…a tick above the -0.5 deg C threshold of La Niña conditions.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The top graph in Figure 1 includes a time-series graph of the weekly NINO3.4 region sea surface temperature anomalies from the NOAA/CPC Monthly Atmospheric & SST Indices webpage, specifically the data here.  The base years for anomalies for the NOAA/CPC data are referenced to 1981-2010. And in the bottom graph, the evolution of the NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies in 2015/16 are compared to 1997/98, another very strong El Niño.  Recall that 2015 started the year at or near El Niño conditions, where that was not the case in 1997.

NOTE: When looking at any graph of sea surface temperature anomalies of the equatorial Pacific, keep in mind that the uncertainties of the data prevent us from knowing the actual sea surface temperatures.   We illustrated and discussed this in the post The Differences between Sea Surface Temperature Datasets Prevent Us from Knowing Which El Niño Was Strongest According NINO3.4 Region Temperature Data.

Expect the full ENSO update in a week or two.


My ebook Who Turned on the Heat? goes into a tremendous amount of detail to explain El Niño and La Niña processes and the long-term aftereffects of strong El Niño events.  Who Turned on the Heat? weighs in at a whopping 550+ pages, about 110,000+ words. It contains somewhere in the neighborhood of 380 color illustrations. In pdf form, it’s about 23MB. It includes links to more than a dozen animations, which allow the reader to view ENSO processes and the interactions between variables.

Who Turned on the Heat? – The Unexpected Global Warming Culprit, El Niño-Southern Oscillation IS NOW FREE.  Click here for a copy (23MB .pdf).



I also published On Global Warming and the Illusion of Control (25MB .pdf) back in November 2015.  The introductory post is here.  It also includes detailed discussions of El Niño events and their aftereffects in Chapter 3.7…though not as detailed as in Who Turned on the Heat?


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Looks like a “normal” ENSO cycle.

Bob Boder

thanks for the update Bob!


As long as the SOI is oscillating between positive and negative, not much is going to change. Need those trades to pick up. Australia is going to get a very massive polar high in the next few days which will delay the trades even longer. Where is that global warming when you need it most?

I have been watching the daily ssta picture from WeatherZone for the last 3+ years. There is a sidebar on the right of their page which always lists 3 weather related stories of current Australian weather systems. For years, those 3 sidebar stories always were about something to do with warming and drought. Then in the last several months every story has been about flood and cold conditions. What a switch!

Bob, thanks for the update and thanks for making your “Who Turned on the Heat?” book free. I’m a slow reader, so it will take me awhile to get through all those pages and digest the material.
One odd thing I have noticed about our almost La Nina is the scalloped pattern in both the sea surface temperatures and sea surface temperature anomalies in the eastern tropical Pacific. I haven’t been watching sea surface temperatures all that long, but so far I have not run across any past examples of this pattern. Here is the current depiction of ocean currents and SSTA in that area:,5.80,682

Steve Fraser

There was some of that after the 97/98 El Niño. Not as much as this time, but some.

Steve Fraser
Steve Fraser

Sorry, that was July 4, 1998.

Thanks Bob and Steve. I’ve been comparing the SST and SSTA for 2016 and 1998, updating every few days here:
So far I had not seen much in the way of scalloping in the 1998 maps. However, after seeing the map Steve posted, I went and looked at all of July 1998 on the UM CCI website, where the daily maps can be sequenced one month at a time. There I noticed the map for 1998 July 8 had one of the most pronounced scalloped patterns that month:
It will be interesting to see how 2016 July 8 compares in a little over a week. I also noticed in sequencing through the UM CCI daily SSTA maps that the cold and warm anomalies fluctuated both higher and lower through the moth of July 1998, much like the recent weakening of the cool anomalies and strengthening of warm anomalies that happened in the past week or two this year. So I guess these fluctuations are fairly normal for the transition from El Niño to La Niña.

By scalloped pattern, I presume you mean the equatorial wavy jet. It’s like a vortex street. The jet is moving west, and where there is shear, with faster fluid next to slower, there is a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, with eddy formation. You can see it in the current ENSO animation here. The flow pattern is there whenever there is a jet, but it shows up well in SST plots where there is good temperature contrast. Here (from here) is a hi-res version from 10th Junecomment image

Nick, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to describe. Your animation of this phenomenon is excellent and I see it is based on the daily 0.25 degree OISST. The term “jet” might be a bit misleading to some, since the current speed is probably much lower than the atmospheric “jet stream” – although I guess on an ocean relative basis it is a jet. From what I recall, the OISST includes buoy, ship, and satellite observations of SST, although I am not sure if it includes the ARGO buoys.

Nick, I went back to look at your animation again a few more times and I see that it nicely shows the pulsing fluctuations in SSTA intensity that I was also trying to describe. I am guessing that the pulsing is related to up-welling and down-welling surges that oscillate in strength over days and weeks and that the up-welling is occurring in the negative SSTA areas and down-welling in the positive SSTA areas. Very interesting to be able to resolve this detail.


The scallops are huge eddies. They are best viewed in time lapse. The NOAA page provides a good version:


In fact, for companies that launch satellites from floating barges on the equator – less fuel and more payload in an equatorial launch – the developing pattern may very likely be a problem. In the “noughties” – 2007-2008 (?) when a la Nina formed that was accompanied by strong surface winds and rougher than normal seas, companies that towed launch barges to equatorial waters all the way from California had to have them brought home to await better launch weather.

Dr. Dave

I’ll show my ignorance here. I keep seeing comparison plots such as those shown here knowing that one is based upon data measured by Argo floats and the other is not. It seems to me that the spatial and temporal differences in data collection practices between Argo/pre-Argo could have a significant effect on the calculation and accuracy of temperature anomalies for large swaths of the Pacific ocean, thus creating an apples and oranges (or at least apples and crab apples) comparison. Has anyone conducted an analysis (if it’s even possible) to determine whether the differences between the two trends fall within the realm of statistical uncertainty?

Thanks Bob,
It will be interesting to see if the “valley” from this ENSO event exceeds the depth of the one in 1998, since the 2015/16 event had a higher peak.
It seems clear from the graph that Earth comes back to a balance relatively quickly, perhaps with a bit of overshoot, and that there is a self-regulating mechanism of some sorts in play.
Perhaps there’s a bit of hysteresis involved:
Hysteresis is the time-based dependence of a system’s output on present and past inputs. The dependence arises because the history affects the value of an internal state. To predict its future outputs, either its internal state or its history must be known.[1] If a given input alternately increases and decreases, a typical mark of hysteresis is that the output forms a loop as in the figure.
Such loops may occur purely because of a dynamic lag between input and output. This effect disappears as the input changes more slowly. This effect meets the description of hysteresis given above, but is often referred to as rate-dependent hysteresis to distinguish it from hysteresis with a more durable memory effect.
Hysteresis occurs in ferromagnetic materials and ferroelectric materials, as well as in the deformation of some materials (such as rubber bands and shape-memory alloys) in response to a varying force. In natural systems hysteresis is often associated with irreversible thermodynamic change. Many artificial systems are designed to have hysteresis: for example, in thermostats and Schmitt triggers, the principle of hysteresis is applied to avoid unwanted frequent switching. Hysteresis has been identified in many other fields, including economics and biology. -Wikipedia definition

Retired Engineer John

Your comment “It seems clear from the graph that the Earth comes back to a balance relatively quickly, perhaps with a bit of overshoot, and that there is a self regulating mechanism of some sorts in play” would suggest that some sort of closed loop system is present since those systems typically have overshoot. Willis post of June 18, 2016, Hemisphere Ocean Temperature Sensitivity showed plots of Ocean temperature that also looked like a closed loop system. My comments on the system were:
Retired Engineer John
June 19, 2016 at 10:00 am
Willis, Congratulations; if I am right you have found something very important. These plots are servo diagrams of the feedback systems of the North and South hemispheres. Notice the southern hemisphere plot is very controlled and is tight indicating high feedback and the northern plot is loose indicating a lower feedback ratio. This is probably due to the higher percentage of the south being in contact with the Ocean.
Retired Engineer John
June 20, 2016 at 9:59 am
Willis, I am sorry that my comment was so short; I was in a hurry. I believe that you have found the master thermostat for the Earth’s climate. Many researchers have hunted for this over the years. The comments on your post do not recognize that both the high and low temperatures are being controlled.
I will look primarily at the Southern Hemisphere curve and compare it to the Northern Hemisphere. The curve is an extended ellipse with the temperature being controlled about the major axis. Both high and low temperatures are controlled with respect to the axis. An ellipse has two centers of rotation, where a thermostat or reference should be only one point. However, in this case, the center could be moving with the input causing the effect of an ellipse. The question would be what would serve as a reference. Bob Tisdale has been commenting and showing on his graphs that the Earth’s temperature does not change smoothly; but rather moves in jumps primarily in concert with El Nino warming and remnants. This would indicate that the Earth’s temperatures follow the Ocean surface temperatures. Since the Oceans’ surface temperature changes with seasons the reference would change and the ellipse form would be expected.
How would the Ocean surface temperature control the Earth’s temperature? The Hadley cells, The Ferrel, and the Polar cells move heat from the Equator to the polar regions. The horse latitudes form a mixing of the high side winds from both the Hadley cells and the Ferrel cells; somewhat like the summing junction of an operational amplifier. The mixed winds, which could also be considered an error signal, flows back to the Equator on the low side of the Hadley cells and is in contact with the Ocean’s surface. The surface temperatures add or subtract energy and prepare them to enter the uplifting at the Equator. The energy and moisture they carry affects the thunderstorms and uplifting at the ITZ. More energy increases the wind flow and serves as a negative feedback cooling the Earth.
I hope this is complete enough for you to use.
Thanks, John


It’s too bad no one can reconcile the AMO cycle over the ENSO cycle. Those two cycles of differing periodicity are now turning down together. I wonder what that will do? It might subtract the nearly 1 degree C seen on the front side of the recent El Nino in comparing the two El Ninos and make it go lower than the older 97/98 case in the downturn (?)

David A

Yes indeed. I am curious as well if there will be a step up in GMT like in 98, or with both a strong La Nina and the AMO turning down, possibly a step down in GMT. (That would really upset the alarmists)


This morning the ENSO meter shows a tick below zero.


Interesting, not what I saw with my eyes, where did I go wrong?


Just click on it to show below zero.


Cache system put up the version it has for that web address and not the most current.

ole jensen

Can anyone tell me why the latest BOM update says -0,16, while the NOOA data reads -0,4

Different baselines, I believe.

Dennis Hlinka

It looks like a very weak La Nina (or La Nada as JB calls it) is predicted for the rest of the year:
Nothing close (and definitely no cigar) to the moderate-strong 99 La Nina that many here predicted would occur after such a strong El Nino.
What ever happened to that switch to the PDO cool cycle back in 2007 [] and the low level of sunspot activity [] that supposedly signaled long-term cooling period (JB’s triple crown of cooling back to the 1970’s) that is yet to materialize? The continued long-term warming trend is still pretty evident in your recent global SST plots with no sign of the infamous temperature hiatus in the data record:comment image?w=640&h=404
I wonder if all that extra heat that continues to accumulate in the world’s oceans, especially 50% increase after 1997, has anything to do with any of this:comment image?w=620&q=85&auto=format&sharp=10&s=6334f4039e8a05714fe1579458b2917a

Please check out your image links at the test page (see top nav bar). To display an image, the url has to be on its own line and end with graphic file extensions, e.g. .jpg or .gif. Most of the URL parameters, e.g. ?w=640&h=404 should be edited out. E.g.:comment image

The negative conditions are just getting underway. I think we will see a drop to around -1.5 to -1.75 later this year.

tony mcleod

I’d say a drop to about 0.2 then another bounce towards 0.4 if the trend on that graph continues.

David A

If the AMO trend continues, and the AMO correlation to GMT and NH T continues, a step down is possible…comment image


Looks like a La Niña will be declared in one or two weeks and confirmed in a month or two. Then we will likely see global temperatures go below average for the rest of the year. It is going to be an interesting half decade from now in terms of global climatology.
– La Niña cooling temperatures
– AMO cycle going down
– Solar activity below average
Not very much reason for global warming to continue, except CO2.

Jim G1

“Not very much reason for global warming to continue, except CO2.”
Except the changing of historical temperature data and the myriads of other factors which effect climate. Matter of fact, there has not been much statistically significant global warming for about 20 years other than the el ninos. But then there are the pause deniers as well.

Please don’t demean yourself by calling them pause deniers.

Dennis Hlinka

Jim G1: “there has not been much statistically significant global warming for about 20 years other than the el ninos.”
Why do you ignore the overall increase in global warming when comparing changes in super El Nino peaks?
That is like saying: It’s not the increasing storm surge coming in due to the approaching hurricane that is causing the higher waves, the occasional peak wave hitting the shoreline is just increasing all by itself.” If the storm surge (tide or base sea level) is increasing, the same equivalent peak wave (super El Nino) will likely be higher than the previous one.
As the long-term trend of temperatures continues to increase, the El Nino peaks will rise with it as was just observed when comparing the 1998 peak to the 2016 peak. A rising tide (global warming) lifts all boats (higher El Nino peaks).

Jim G1

I noted in my quote that I was referencing CO2 as the purported causal variable. Global warming from natural causes has been going on, intermittently for 18, 000 years or so. Nothing, or at least, very little to do with CO2.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Dennis Hlinka

Jim G1,
Please clearly define and quantify the natural causes to the recent 50+ years of global warming.

Richard M

Dennis Hlinka, why do you ignore other variables? All you have to do is factor in the AMO and the current El Nino is actually weaker than the 1998 one. But hey, looking at the big picture would require you to give up your AGW magical thinking. How inconvenient.

Dennis Hlinka

Jim G1,
You are the one that brought up the natural causes as being the main force behind the global warming. All I am asking for is for you to define and quantify them so I can understand the actual reasoning that supports your opinion. I am not your student so don’t ask me to do your calculations.
You indicate that the latest El Nino was weaker than in 1998. If that is so, then why did the ocean temperatures rise above the 1998 peak? What other natural force(s) caused the ocean temperature to rise higher than the 1998 peak even thought the El Nino was weaker?
If you are going to provide an opinion on this subject, then I think it should have some actual science to support it.

Richard M

Dennis, your reading comprehension is lacking. The natural causes of the recent warming (already ended) are most likely the concurrent positive phases of the AMO and PDO with an assist from the long term millennial cycle. There has not been 50 years of warming. The only warming I’ve seen is from 1977-1993. Nothing before that or after than for several decades.

Dennis Hlinka

Richard M,
“Since 1955, over 90% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases (GHG) has been stored in the oceans” []
Global warming, as represented in this chart, highlights the exponential increase of ocean heat content starting in the early 1900’s and most definitely increasing after 1955 (60+ years ago):comment image
The problem with your argument about the PDO and AMO being in positive phase is that the PDO was supposed to be in a long-term negative phase starting in 2007 and was supposed to be the reason for a cooling trend lasting at least into the 2030’s (e.g., JB’s triple crown of cooling argument). However, something appears to have happened to that negative PDO phase as it switched back to a highly positive phase over the last 2 years:
Could the storage of that additional amount of trapped GHG heat going into the oceans, especially with 50% of the added ocean heat content coming after 1997 (as shown in that chart above), cause an alteration of the periodicity and magnitude of those natural ocean cycles and force them to behave differently and result in the continuation of the warming trend instead of the expected cooling trend? Just something to think about.

Jim G1

Since none of the agw scientists can define nor quantify the causes of global warming and need to take the simplistic and politically easy way out and attribute it to CO2 when there is no statistically significant scientific evidence that it is the actual causal agent, why do you suppose I should do their work for them? Just a clue for you though, start with the 70% of the earth’s surface that is covered in water to an average depth of 12, 000 ft as the collector of and distributor of energy from the sun and geothermal sources and you will be much closer to the answer than is CO2 which is .04% of the earth’s atmosphere. You need to learn the difference between correlation and causality. The oceans are where to begin the search and the actual mechanisms causing climate will not be simple and are still undefined.

Dennis Hlinka

Jim G1,
Your statement that none of the agw scientists can define nor quantify the causes of global warming is completely false.
Anyone can perform even very simple estimates of the amount of global warming expected due to the increase of GHGs:
1) Based on this Trenberth (2009) study:
As of 2002, the net global energy absorbed in the atmosphere due to the increase in GHGs was estimated around 0.9 W/m2
2) Using the very conservative temperature/net energy relationship derived by Dr. Roy Spencer:
he comes up with 0.77K*(W/m2).
3) Putting that 0.9 W/m2 global energy estimate into Dr. Spencer’s equation, the amount of warming is estimated to be about 0.7C. That would be how much net global warming that occurred from 1800 until 2002.
4) Since CO2 concentrations have continued to increase since 2002 [ ], I estimate this net energy absorbed to have increased to around 1.2 W/m2
5) Plugging that new net energy estimate into the equation, the amount of man-made GHG warming since 1800 is estimated to be around 0.9C.
Remarkably, that is pretty close to the average amount of warming noted on this chart since 1850:
I ask you again to simply define and quantify all the natural causes to the observed amount of global warming in support of your argument.

Richard M

Dennis Hlinka, you need to educate yourself. A negative PDO is essentially a measure of the preponderance of La Nina conditions. It doesn’t mean El Nino conditions go away. You are confusing yourself with short term changes. The fact you don’t understand this simple fact is very telling.
Your ocean claim is also evidence of how easily your accept propaganda masquerading as science. We don’t have any good ocean data before Argo was started in 2003 and even now it isn’t that good given the adjustments to that data. As is typical for true believers you recite from your gospel without having a clue to whether any of it is true.
Most folks realize the ocean claims are very suspect. There is no good mechanism for IR to heat the oceans. If it could, the heating should be consistent across all ocean basins and that hasn’t been the case. A far more logical reason for possibly slightly warmer oceans is variations in the THC. This not only explains the current warming but also past warm periods (Minoan, Roman and Medieval warm periods).

Jim G1

Unfortunately, your arguments are ceteris paribus in nature and ignore all of the exogenous variables involved in climate. No one has quantified all of the variables which impact climate as they are most likely non linear and vary from time to time. Your simplistic approach verifies what I said before. You do not understand the difference between correlation and causality. Because two things happen simultaneously does not mean one causes the other, nor which might cause which. CO2 and your energy analysis are a perfect example of your flawed thinking in this regard.

A La Niña won’t be declared until three overlapping three month periods have an average Nino 3.4 anomaly of 0.5 C° or less. It’s like declaring a recession – by the time it meats the formal definition the layoffs have been going on for months
La Niña conditions are just a tick away.

Jim G1

Could use some la nina here in WY. Usually means cooler and wetter for where I live. Don’t need the cooler but can always use the wet in this high desert country. Hope it’s sooner rather than later.


Temperature response to ENSO lags surface temperatures by ~ 2 months and lower troposphere temperatures by ~ 4 months. Assuming La Niña conditions set in in July 16, then it should be Oct/Nov before any notably cool temperatures (meaning close to or below the 1981-2010 monthly averages) start appearing in UAH/RSS.
Whether this means 2016 will set a new warmest calender year in the satellite data remains to be seen. As it stands though, even if UAH LT temperatures continue to cool at their current rate since the Feb 2016 peak, a new warmest continuous 12-month period in that series looks likely to be set for Aug 15 – Jul 16, beating the previous records which spanned two 12-month periods in 1997/98. This new warmest continuous 12-month record will likely be beaten again by the Sep 15 – Aug 16 period and possibly Oct 15 – Sep 16 as well.

Richard M

DWR54, exactly what meaning will a new record have when all the energy has disappeared by the winter of 2017? If the global anomaly drops back into negative values that means the energy is gone. You are like a person who lost all his money in the stock exchange but still claiming you are rich because your average wealth going back in time is high.
Sorry, but gone is gone and has no meaning. Any warming from that time requires new energy coming into the system. Logical folks look at the huge variation that occurs during ENSO swings and realize CO2 can’t possibly be a big factor compared to mother nature. If you want to understand climate, understand ocean changes.


“Missed it by that much.”
Maxwell Smart


Thanks, Bob. FWIW, I watch the BOM weather maps and I have noticed that the Antarctic region (see: seems to spawn deep lows (940-970 mB) that circulate from W to E across the Australian Bight (more or less), currently generating cold fronts on the Aussie East coast in conjunction with highs centred roughly above 30S. Before the ENSO (NINo3.4) index turned negative, I noticed that these highs are more typically centred below 30S. cheers,

Dennis Hlinka:
You asked “Please clearly define and quantify the natural causes to the recent 50+ years of global warming”
The global warming from circa 1975 to the present has been due to the removal of dimming SO2 aerosols from the atmosphere due to Clean Air efforts.
Superimposed upon that warming are temporary increases or decreases due to El Nino’s or La Nina’s.(or volcanic eruptions)
The Climate Sensitivity factor to the removal of SO2 .02 deg. C. of warming for each net Megatonne of reduction in global SO2 emissions. This factor, when multiplied times the amount .of reduction in SO2 emissions between a given year and, say, another year 5 years later, will give the the amount of anomalous temperature increase for the later year to within less than a tenth of a deg. C. of actuality.
This accuracy completely excludes the possibility of any warming from greenhouse gasses–and any other suggested causes of climate change..
It also proves that the “control knob” of Climate Change is simply the amount of SO2 aerosols in the atmosphere.

0.1 degrees C. …. +/- 0.5 degrees C. … in my opinion
If my opinion on the true margin of error is wrong,
please provide a link to proof that the margin of error
is considerably smaller than +/- 0.5 degrees C.