Early December 2016 La Niña Update: Mixed Signals from NOAA and BOM

Guest Post by Bob Tisdale

Note: See Update at the end of the post.

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Last month on November 10, NOAA issued a La Niña Advisory, indicating weak La Niña conditions existed and that those conditions were “slightly favored to persist (~55% chance) through winter 2016-17.” Let’s see how things are progressing.


The sea surface temperature anomalies of the NINO3.4 region of the tropical Pacific (coordinates 5S-5N, 170W-120W) are a commonly used index for the timing, strength and duration of El Niño and La Niña events.

NOAA’s weekly sea surface temperature anomaly data for the NINO3.4 region based on their original Reynolds OI.v2 data show that surface temperatures there have been in ENSO neutral conditions (not La Niña, not El Niño) for 3 weeks. As of the week centered on Wednesday November 30 and for the two prior weeks, NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies were at -0.4 deg C, which is above the -0.5 deg C threshold of La Niña conditions. (Rounding out the month of November, for the first week, the value was -0.7 deg C.) See the time-series graph in Figure 1.


Figure 1

Note that the horizontal green line is the most recent weekly value, not a trend line.

This data are based on NOAA’s original version of their Reynolds OI.v2 satellite-enhanced sea surface temperature dataset. The anomalies are referenced to the base period of 1981-2010. This is not the dataset that NOAA uses for their “official” ENSO indices.


Again we’re looking at sea surface temperature data for the NINO3.4 region, but this time we’re looking at a version based on NOAA’s ERSST.v4 monthly “pause buster” sea surface temperature data, which is based solely on observations from buoys and ship inlets, no satellite-based data. This is the dataset that NOAA uses for their “official” ENSO index but it is referenced to the fixed base years of 1981-2010…while NOAA takes a few additional steps for their “official” Oceanic NINO Index.

The monthly ERSST.v4-based data for November 2016 show NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies well within the realm of weak La Niña conditions, at -0.82 deg C. See Figure 2. The October value was -0.8 deg C.


Figure 2


As opposed to using a fixed 30-year based period for the ERSST.v4-based NINO3.4 anomalies in their “official” Oceanic NINO Index, NOAA uses multiple 30-year periods that shift every 5 years. See the NOAA explanation here. NOAA claims they’ve taken this curious approach “to remove this [global] warming trend” on the equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature data. We revealed, however, in the 2012 post Comments on NOAA’s Recent Changes to the Oceanic NINO Index (ONI) that the global “warming trend” in NINO3.4 sea surface temperature data resulted primarily from the impact of the well-known and naturally occurring 1976 Pacific climate shift. Apparently, NOAA doesn’t want mother nature to be responsible for even localized warming. This, of course, renders the Oceanic NINO Index useless for realistic climate studies.

Regardless, NOAA has adopted this odd approach to calculate the sea surface temperature anomaly values for their “official” Ocean NINO Index. The monthly NINO3.4 values that are input to the Ocean NINO Index are shown in Figure 3. The November 2016 NINO3.4 sea surface temperature “anomaly” for this altered dataset is -0.92 deg C, which is approaching the -1.0 deg C threshold of a moderately strong La Niña. From October to November 2016, this modified dataset shows a noticeable strengthening of -0.05 deg C.


Figure 3

So it appears that NOAA is working hard at making the 2016/17 La Niña an “official” reality.

Note: NOAA then uses a 3-month running average of this altered monthly NINO3.4-based data for their Oceanic NINO Index.


The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology is another widely used reference for the strength, frequency and duration of El Niño and La Niña events. We discussed the Southern Oscillation Index in Part 8 of the 2014/15 El Niño series. It is derived from the sea level pressures of Tahiti and Darwin, Australia, and as such it reflects the wind patterns off the equator in the southern tropical Pacific. With the Southern Oscillation Index, El Niño events are strong negative values and La Niñas are strong positive values, which is the reverse of what we see with sea surface temperature-based indices. The November 2016 Southern Oscillation Index shows ENSO neutral conditions exist in the tropical Pacific…with a value is -0.7, which is the sign opposite to those of La Niña conditions. (The BOM threshold for La Niña conditions is an SOI value of +8.0.) According to the SOI, we briefly made it into La Niña conditions in September and since then, ENSO neutral. Figure 4 presents a time-series graph of the SOI data.


Figure 4

Again, the horizontal green line is the most recent monthly value, not a trend line.

Also see the BOM Recent (preliminary) Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values webpage. The current 30-day running average and the 90-day average are still in ENSO neutral conditions.


As noted in the title, we’re getting mixed signals from NOAA and BOM, and from NOAA itself, about the existence of La Niña conditions on the tropical Pacific.


I published On Global Warming and the Illusion of Control (25MB .pdf) back in November 2015. The introductory post is here. That 700+ page climate change reference is free. Chapter 3.7 includes detailed discussions of El Niño events and their aftereffects…though not as detailed as in Who Turned on the Heat?

My ebook Who Turned on the Heat? – The Unsuspected Global Warming Culprit: El Niño-Southern Oscillation (23MB .pdf) goes into a tremendous amount of detail to explain El Niño and La Niña processes and the long-term global-warming aftereffects of strong El Niño events. It too is free. See the introductory post here. 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.


Within hours of my publishing this post, Australia’s BOM has cancelled their La Niña watch. They write in their December 6th ENSO Update:

La Niña no longer likely in the coming months

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the tropical Pacific Ocean remains neutral (neither El Niño nor La Niña). Although some very weak La Niña-like patterns continue (such as cooler than normal ocean temperatures and reduced cloudiness in the central and eastern Pacific), La Niña thresholds have not been met. Climate models and current observations suggest these patterns will not persist. The likelihood of La Niña developing in the coming months is now low, and hence the Bureau’s ENSO Outlook has shifted from La Niña WATCH to INACTIVE.

Will NOAA follow?

24 thoughts on “Early December 2016 La Niña Update: Mixed Signals from NOAA and BOM

  1. Thanks Bob.
    I was wondering how ENSO was faring. Tough to keep up with a the revised datasets and shifting baselines, who’s on second base, in this Age of Government Climatism chicanery.

    I’m thinking Bob, Anthony, and Willis should make a January scientific expedition to Tahiti and Darwin in order to investigate this SOI ENSO discrepancy.
    Call it a search for the missing LaNina.
    They could run a Gofundme.com campaign to pay for junket. I’d kick in a Ben to see that.

    • I’ve long been critical of the fascination the climate ‘science’ community has with anomaly graphs. If the metadata defining the base-period dates and the average value are in text accompanying the graph, and the graph gets extracted from the article, then significant information is lost. However, if actual temperatures are plotted at the same vertical scale as anomaly data, the graphs look the same! There can be legitimate reasons for working with anomalies, such as when the data are subjected to extensive mathematical machinations to force it to confess; however, when graphed, I find that actual temperatures are more informative for interpretation. If one can make a good case that an anomaly plot makes the illustration more informative, despite the practice of ‘moving the goal posts,’ then a solution would be to use two vertical scales, one showing actual temperatures, and the other showing the equivalent anomalies for that day’s preferred base-period. This probably won’t be adopted as a practice because I suspect that would be too transparent. I think those with an alarmist agenda want to work with a presentation that is not clear and objective, but instead has a strong visual impact and appeals to an emotional response. (Ignore that man behind the curtain!)

    • My take.
      Warmer and colder Ripples passing through the 3.4 box.
      Excursions + and – revert to the mean.
      Thus, the +0.129 C value will certainly fall back to -0.5 C (or lower) value range within 7-10 days.

      See animated gif below.

  2. Bob, don’t you think we are looking at an entirely new type of situation. Usually, after a big El Nino, the warm water circulates poleward and continues to give off warmth that continues to support warm global temperatures for awhile. In this case, we have the sudden appearance of the Cold Blob (which incidentally appears to have a reflection in the Southern Pacific. I think the traditional analysis of La Nina doesn’t work the same under these conditions. We should find that adding the equatorial temperatures to such a large cold blob, especially when this blob is even colder than the La Nina waters, gives a better understanding of the effect to expect on global temperatures. The unprecedented 1+C drop in land temperatures would appear to be just the beginning. Is this not support for forecasting a fairly drastic cooling globally over the next year or so? If I’m right, do I get a Nobel Prize? No that’s stupid, that doesn’t happen for global cooling forecasts.

  3. This graphical picture gives a hint at what’s going on just South of the equator in the West Trop Pacific.

    • looks more like spring/summer heating to me which is normal as it’s near summer solstice in the south…..

      • It’s the chicken and the egg scenario. Is the SO the cause or the effect?

        If SO is the cause, then that Southern Hemisphere eastward warm excursion will continue eastward.

        If SO is an effect, then that eastward warm excursion will cause the SO to reverse (become high +ive) over the next few months until the April-May ENSO prediction barrier is crossed.

  4. Currently in Marbella, Costa del Sol, Spain. We have had 12 months of rainfall in 3 days, 100’s of damaged cars and properties and sadly two drownings in town centres, which give an idea of the scale of things.
    This is not unprecedented,a similar situation occurred in 1989, this also follows a very hot dry summer. I realise that this is weather, but demonstrates that averages are just that and with phenomena like El Nino and La Nina extreme weather events will happen.


    • Andrew, from the article is says: “The Spanish Metrological Office (AEMET) reported they were expecting 100 cubic metres to fall between 8pm Saturday and midnight tonight(Sunday?).” Specifying rainfall as volume (i.e. cubic metres) without specifying area doesn’t make sense. I did find a reference that said it was measured in liters per square meter, but cubic meters per sq. meter? That would work out to 100,000 liters/sq.meter. I would hope that was a misprint. If they meant 100 liters/sq.meter over 40(?) hours, then that’s not considered a lot of rain unless it occurred within an hour or two.

    • But it has been a cold year in Spain.

      In the Costa Blance, most days were about 3 deg cooler than average according to the standard Windows 10 weather information.

      The Gota Fira, heavy rains in October/November are not at all unusual.

    • @ Andrew Harding…I have been expecting to see a similar heavy rain event on the Pacific Northwest in this winter. So I have watched the daily changes with interest over the last 4 weeks. I made a prediction back in early 2014 that this winter or in the winter of 2017/18 the US northwest coast would get hit. Here is a view of what could potentially turn into the next PNW flood event depending on the winds. To my eye this looks like a potential set up for what could turn into a classic Pineapple Express, which is an atmospheric river flow streaming from around Hawaii on a heading that will impact somewhere from the SF/Bay Area to lower coastal Canada. The strength of the flood is often related to how much early snow has fallen prior to this warm very moist stream raining out in the mountains and further inland. …https://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/surface/level/overlay=total_precipitable_water/orthographic=-141.69,32.43,497/loc=-146.433,33.637

  5. Hi Bob,
    This is an interesting period when it comes to natural variance impacts on the progression of the Current Warm Period. The reason is that we are just off an El Niño event that had characteristics very similar to that of 1997/98, and that was followed by a period where warming was not evident and given a whole lot of euphemistic names including ‘hiatus’ and ‘pause’.
    – There’s chatter anticipating a resumption of the [same] period of no evident warming again.
    – Looking at UAH prepublished by Roy Spencer, http://www.drroyspencer.com/2016/12/uah-global-temperature-update-for-november-2016-0-45-deg-c/, there is a hint of a step-up from the plateau prior to the recent ElNino that will likely be addressed in your next review.
    – There’s a hesitancy to announce whether there’s a La Niña in progress; this, when being a non-El Niño class of pattern being the important factor anyway. For BoM, where they use SOI +7 as threshold and a sustained above +7 for classifying the pattern as La Niña, this comes with a qualifier ‘Some La Niña-like effects can still occur even if thresholds are not met.’ as noted on http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/wrap-up/archive/20160816.archive.shtml but they have dropped this qualifier on recent SOI updates, eg http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/wrap-up/archive/20160816.archive.shtml#tabs=SOI – when used it was during a significant period of flooding during the Australian spring following the end of El Niño.

    Overall, it is rather amusing to watch this time around for *anticipated* machinations to explain another plateau of warmth, a different experience to last time as we watched the unfolding of an aghast realisation that a plateau was being experienced, and the pause-busting applied about the places. This makes for a difference.

    Of course, despite Natural Variance is readily demonstrable [and valuable to know for policy], so long as the models ignore this Natural Variance while simultaneously nevertheless depending on as much warm Natural Variance to deliver heat so that observations can come at least into very loud shouting distance of predictions, the endless off-focus analysis/counter-analysis of the Current Warm Period will continue.

    Looking forward to your next review/November 2016 Global Surface (Land+Ocean) and Lower Troposphere Temperature Anomaly Update

    Thrown in for those interested: ‘Climate policy review ‘business as usual’: Malcolm Turnbull – Aust Fin Review article
    – All about the machinations in preparation for the Aust Government 2017 Review on Climate policy
    Read at: http://www.afr.com/news/climate-policy-review-business-as-usual-malcolm-turnbull-20161205-gt4oqk#ixzz4S1F57otD

    regards, John from Coogee

  6. i wanna see the little widgets pointer at at least -0.5 or more towards one.
    the bom 28day and longrange yesterday…like their daily fcasts have a huge variance
    ie mylocal fcast will say 30% chance of rain
    while directly below it the other info will say 70%
    absolutely bugger all use really
    the sat and radar for my area both dont exist, everything vanishes as they dont HAVE any actual tracking for this area
    so i go out at night and see how cold it is
    look at the sky
    and see what its like in the morning;-)
    and take 4 seasons of clothes with me

  7. Using the 10.7 cm Flux, the planet is set for at least 10 years of reduced solar energy. The Sun supplies energy across the frequency spectrum. The Flux is strongly correlated to the Sun’s magnetic fields as per Salvagard. The reduced Flux is caused by the Solar Minimum.

    The Oceans act as a battery storing and releasing energy at low infrared frequencies. Less Solar energy input will result in the Oceans cooling. Note: the planet radiates heat at a different frequency than that it receives energy, i.e., high frequency energy in, low frequency energy out. The Poles will be the first to be affected. The Ice Caps will increase in duration and thickness.

    The La Niña will persist and grow for years.

  8. From the BOM:

    “The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the tropical Pacific Ocean remains neutral (neither El Niño nor La Niña). Although some very weak La Niña-like patterns continue (such as cooler than normal ocean temperatures and reduced cloudiness in the central and eastern Pacific), La Niña thresholds have not been met. Climate models and current observations suggest these patterns will not persist. The likelihood of La Niña developing in the coming months is now low, and hence the Bureau’s ENSO Outlook has shifted from La Niña WATCH to INACTIVE.”

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