El Niño or La Nada for the 2014/15 ENSO Season

El Niño and La Niña events are the dominant modes of natural climate variability on Earth, which is why the state of the tropical Pacific is continuously monitored.  El Niños and La Niñas impact weather patterns globally.  As a number of recent papers have argued, the dominance of La Niña events in recent years is responsible for part of the cessation in global surface warming outside of the Arctic, so by inference, those papers are also stating that a string of strong El Niño events were responsible for part of the long-term warming from the mid-1970s to the turn of the century.  There’s nothing new about that; for years we’ve been discussing the naturally occurring, sunlight-fueled processes that drive El Niño events and cause long-term warming of global surface temperatures. If this subject is new to you, see the link at the end of this post for an overview.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) provides the following summary of their ENSO forecasts in their January 30, 2014 El Niño/La Niña Update:

    • ENSO conditions are currently neutral (neither El Niño nor La Niña);
    • As of mid-January 2014, except for a small possibility for weak and brief La Niña development during the next couple of months, outlooks indicate likely continuation of neutral conditions into the second quarter of 2014;
    • Current forecasts indicate approximately equal chances for neutral conditions or the development of a weak El Niño during the third quarter of 2014, reflecting increased chances for development of a weak El Niño.

It appears no one is suggesting that a full-fledged La Niña will form for the 2014/15 season.  As of the week centered on February 5th, the sea surface temperature anomalies of the NINO3.4 region of the equatorial Pacific indicated that the tropical Pacific was experiencing La Niña conditions, though not an “official” La Niña.  See the monthly sea surface temperature update for January 2014.

What’s your prediction?  Please provide links to the variables you monitor. Here’s what I predict.

I predict, if we see El Niño conditions, global warming enthusiasts will cheer, because they have forecast, in turn, that record high global temperatures will accompany the next El Niño. And I predict, if we see La Niña or ENSO-neutral conditions, skeptics will cheer, because global surface temperatures should continue to remain flat. (Other than that, I don’t make predictions.)

The ENSO wrap-up from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for February 14, 2014 provides a similar loose forecast. (For those who live north of the equator, keep in mind the BOM is discussing austral seasons.)

And NOAA’s CPC has a similar mix of possible scenarios in their Weekly ENSO Update dated February 10, 2014—though the NCEP’s models are forecasting El Niño conditions starting in April-June 2014. See page 27.

The WMO briefly mentions the problems with ENSO predictions during this part of the year.  They write:

It must be noted that model outlooks that span March-May period tend to have particularly lower skill than those made at other times of year. Hence some caution should be exercised when using long range outlooks made at this time for the middle of the year and beyond.

ENSO predictions at this time of year are hampered by a problem called the Spring Prediction Barrier. See the discussion at the IRI website here.  But a series of new papers claim to have overcome that hurdle.

The recently published Ludescher et al (2014) Very Early Warning of Next El Niño (paywalled) are predicting El Niño conditions by late 2014.  The abstract reads:

The most important driver of climate variability is the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which can trigger disasters in various parts of the globe. Despite its importance, conventional forecasting is still limited to 6 mo ahead. Recently, we developed an approach based on network analysis, which allows projection of an El Niño event about 1 y ahead. Here we show that our method correctly predicted the absence of El Niño events in 2012 and 2013 and now announce that our approach indicated (in September 2013 already) the return of El Niño in late 2014 with a 3-in-4 likelihood. We also discuss the relevance of the next El Niño to the question of global warming and the present hiatus in the global mean surface temperature.

Global warming enthusiasts have already started cheering for an El Niño. See the Michael Slezak article in NewScientist titled El Niño may make 2014 the hottest year on record.  And Andrew Freedman of ClimateCentral begins his post Study Sounds ‘El Niño Alarm’ For Late This Year:

A new study shows that there is at least a 76 percent likelihood that an El Niño event will occur later this year, potentially reshaping global weather patterns for a year or more and raising the odds that 2015 will set a record for the warmest year since instrument records began in the late 19th century.

Ludescher et al (2014) appears to be based on Ludescher et al (2013) Improved El Niño forecasting by cooperativity detection (paywalled).  We discussed the earlier Ludescher et al paper in the July 2013 post El Niño in the News.  I closed that post with:


Numerous datasets indicate that El Niño events are fueled naturally. Additionally, satellite-era sea surface temperature records indicate that El Niño events are responsible for the warming of sea surface temperatures over the past 31 years, not vice versa as Li et al (2013) have suggested.  If this topic is new to you, refer to my illustrated essay “The Manmade Global Warming Challenge” [42MB].

About Bob Tisdale

Research interest: the long-term aftereffects of El Niño and La Nina events on global sea surface temperature and ocean heat content. Author of the ebook Who Turned on the Heat? and regular contributor at WattsUpWithThat.
This entry was posted in El Nino-La Nina Processes. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to El Niño or La Nada for the 2014/15 ENSO Season

  1. Bob Tisdale says:

    Oops. I also should have included a link to the following post for those new to El Niño and La Niña processes:
    An Illustrated Introduction to the Basic Processes that Drive El Niño and La Niña Events

  2. jlurtz says:

    Hi Bob,
    Check out the MDL between England and Canada.

    The MDL is the depth at which the surface waters differ significantly from the waters at depth. Simply, a greater depth means that the Oceans are not being mixed by winds or currents.

    The MDL between England and Canada has been growing larger, more area, and getting deeper. My guess is that the Gulf Stream is not able to penetrate as far north as in high integral Flux years. Since the integral of the Flux continues to drop, I am very concerned about a “Modern Ice Age”. If the Sun turns on, the warmth should continue. With the Sun quiet, life in the Northern Hemisphere could get very chilly.

    Also, look at the Equatorial Pacific:

    The westward flowing waves [currents] have decreased, and instead of the waves [current] going all the way to Indonesia, it only travels 1/3 of way. My view: high integral, Flux stronger trade winds; low integral Flux, weak trade winds.


    Dr. Jerry Lurtz

  3. timetochooseagain says:

    Bob-I believe I have discovered something interesting that does indeed portend an El Niño if correct. I noticed that here (and by “here” I mean in South Florida) we’ve been having a rather wet dry season:

    This struck me as odd, since we don’t have an El Niño right now, but <a href="http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b370/gatemaster99/IEIElNinoPrecip.png&quot; El Niño typically is associated with wet conditions here. So I decided to investigate more closely. I used the Southern Oscillation index, and identified starting dates for events (as I defined them, any period for which the average of 11 and 13 month centered averages had the same sign for at least 12 consecutive months) and as it happened I could average events from 33 months before they begin, so I can get a good sense if the relationship goes in one direction or another. I also took the Florida Climate Division 6 data, and averaged both percentage departures from the long term mean (1895-2013) and the average of 11 and 13 month centered totals. I then used regression to put the event profiles on the same scale as the precipitation event composites. For La Niña, Modeled in blue, actual in green, totals on the left, percentage departures on the right, x axes are months from start of event, it looks like, it looks pretty clear that the precipitation changes after SOI changes. But for El Niño, the precipitation starts to increase before SOI starts to shift in the direction of El Niño! On the other hand it lags behind as the event winds down.

    If so, it seems like I’ve identified something that is a precursor to El Niño events! And I would not be surprised if we do see one, given how wet it’s been.

  4. Bob Tisdale says:

    Jerry Lurtz, many thanks for the links. A while ago, I tried to keep track of a number of ocean variables of daily bases, but the more I studied the more I realized I didn’t know if the phenomena I was seeing were seasonal or weather-related effects–or if they were anomalous behaviors.


  5. Bob Tisdale says:

    timetochooseagain: Thanks for the intro to your observations. You’re using averages, as far as I can tell. Have you checked how well your predictions work in the past for each event?

  6. timetochooseagain says:

    @ Bob Tisdale-I have not. Admittedly, the data are very noisy so it may be hard to tell for an individual event. I will see about looking into that, though.
    Hm, maybe if I used precipitation data from more locations, I could reduce the noise and get a more robust ENSO connection. Texas has similar correlations in many places. More work I guess.

  7. Retired Engineer John says:

    Dr Lutz, your links are very interesting. Is the MDL given in meters? I see that NRL generated both links; do you know what was used to generate the data? On the second link, I can see the gyre at the equator off the coast of South America and I see another gyre North of Borneo that I didn’t know existed. The MDL clearly shows the areas of upwelling water including a region Northeast of Australia. On your comment about the MDL, it appears that the extreme North Pacific also has an area of increasing MDL. Thank you for the links and any information that you may supply.

  8. jlurtz says:

    The entry point for all of the links :
    Search Atlantic/Pacific etc.
    Vast amounts of information, and historical [12 month animations].

    I think that we are more concerned with the surface currents/gyres [this is where the heat transfer would occur]. At the Equator, the surface currents sure do not match the published information.

    The MDL is a new [kept from us] measurement. I had difficultly determining what it actually means from the non-simple “google definitions”. If you learn more, let us know!!!

    Yes, depth in meters [even that wasn’t obvious].

  9. Juraj V says:

    It definitely looks cold now.

    I suppose those Enso models show wishful thinking of their authors at the moment.

  10. Bob Tisdale says:

    Juraj V, the subsurface data from BOM is a little outdated. See the current animation from NOAA:


  11. jlurtz says:


    The following link describes the “MLD” [mixed layer depth]. Check out the BLT section on El Nino. Any conclusions??


  12. jlurtz says:

    Having trouble getting BLT to not be -> Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato …..

  13. Bob Tisdale says:

    Thanks, Andrew. It reads like a fiction.

  14. Bob Tisdale says:

    jlurtz says: “Check out the BLT section on El Nino. Any conclusions??”

    Wikipedia hasn’t presented anything that contradicts what is known (and what we’ve discussed here) about ENSO processes.

    jlurtz says: “Having trouble getting BLT to not be -> Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato …..”

    That’s odd. I always thought BLT stood for baloney, liverwurst and tuna. Maybe bacon, lettuce and tomato will taste better. 😉

  15. Bob Tisdale says:

    Eek! That’s my first auto-generated emoticon.

  16. Retired Engineer John says:

    Bob, I have been thinking about the current set of conditions across the Equatorial Pacific and I suspect that the Pacific Equatorial Counter Current is playing a larger role than is realized. The plots of the warm water moving East are in the 0 – 400 meters depth and they are moving slowly. When the Western Pacific has a .5 to 1.0 meter imbalance in water surface height, it will put downward pressure on the total water column and an outflow will develop somewhere deep in the ocean. The major gyres and North and South Equatorial Currents block the flows at higher levels in the Ocean. I have not seen a very deep water component for the Equatorial Counter Current listed in any of the literature; however, I am suspecting that it exists. The upwelling along the Pacific coast bring water rich in nutrients that can only come from the very deep Ocean. Also, there has to be an outlet or the water would continue to get deeper in the Asian warm pool instead of reaching levels and stabilizing. Have you seen any evidence that says such a deep water current exists?

  17. Bob Tisdale says:

    Retired Engineer John. Yup, I’ve seen evidence that the current exists. There are a number of studies about it, I believe the subsurface countercurrent you’re discussing goes by the name of “Equatorial Undercurrent”.


  18. Retired Engineer John says:

    Thanks Bob. What I was looking for didn’t appear on the simple charts; however, after your comment, I found it at http://gyre.umeoce.maine.edu/physicalocean/Tomczak/regoc/pdffiles/colour/double/08P-Pacific-right.pdf
    There is a figure 8.15 “Evidence for banded structure of currents at the equator”. It shows the Equatorial Undercurrent; but, it also shows an Equatorial Intermediate Current (EIC) that extends down to 2,000 meters. This is probably the current that is feeding that gyre just North of the Equator on the South American coast. There is no information as to when this current is present and how long it lasts. I suspect this current, especially when it is deep in the Ocean may play a part in the upwellings and how long neutral states last.

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