The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 4 – Early Evolution – Comparison with Other Satellite-Era El Niños

In the preceding post, we looked at the evolution of the weekly sea surface temperature anomalies in two regions of the equatorial Pacific (NINO3.4 and NINO1+2), comparing the data so far in 2014 to those of the strong 1982/83 and 1997/98 El Niño events. (See 2014/15 El Niño – Part 3 – Early Evolution – Comparison with 1982/83 & 1997/98 El Niño Events.)  We presented them because there are a lot of comparisons of this El Niño to those strong El Niños.

In this post, using the same two regions, we’ll compare the evolution of the sea surface temperature anomalies this year to the rest of the satellite-era El Niño events.   And we’ll also compare this year to the average, because someone was bound to ask.

This post serves solely as a reference.  What it illustrates very well is that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in the evolutions of sea surface temperatures during El Niño events. A tremendous amount of diversity.

Are you ready for some spaghetti?

BEFORE WE START

The processes that initiate each El Niño are basically the same: a downwelling (warm) Kelvin wave heads east along the equator in the Pacific.  We illustrated this year’s downwelling Kelvin wave in the first post in this series. The waters at the surface and below the surface of the equatorial Pacific are normally warmer in the west than in the east.  So the downwelling Kelvin wave, which is carrying (basically shifting) warm water from west to east below the surface, causes the subsurface temperatures to be warmer than normal along the central and eastern portions of the equator.  That warmer-than-normal subsurface water is drawn to the surface in a process called upwelling, and when it reaches the surface, the sea surface temperature anomalies begin to increase along the central and eastern portions of the equatorial Pacific.  That’s where we are.  The warmer-than-normal subsurface water is being drawn to the surface.

Now consider that the Kelvin waves don’t start at exactly the same time each year…and the Kelvin waves don’t have the same amount of warm water available, so they don’t all create the same subsurface temperature anomalies…and the sea surface temperatures at the start of each El Niño are somewhat different…and the strengths of the trade winds can also be different…and a multitude of other background states are all in different states.  That’s why we’re going to see a lot of spaghetti when we compare the evolution of this year’s sea surface temperature anomalies with all the other satellite-era El Niños.

COMPARISONS WITH OTHER SATELLITE-ERA EL NIÑOS (NOT 1982/83 & 1997/98 EL NIÑOS)

Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the evolutions of the weekly sea surface temperature anomalies from the first week in a given year through the 60th week, so the data stretch into the first few months of the second year of each El Niño. (El Niños normally peak in boreal winter, because they are tied to the seasonal cycle.) The NOAA Oceanic NINO Index (ONI) was used as a reference for “official” El Niño events. We’re using the weekly Reynolds OI.v2 data, which starts in late 1981.  In addition to where we stand so far for the 2014/15 El Niño (highlighted in red), Figures 1 and 2 also include the evolutions of the sea surface temperature anomalies for the 1986/87 El Niño, 1991/92 El Niño, 1994/95 El Niño, 2002/03 El Niño, 2004/05 El Niño, 2006/07 El Niño and the 2009/10 El Niño.  Figure 1 is for the NINO3.4 region, which is located on the east-central portion of the equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 170W-120W). Figure 2 is for the NINO1+2 region, and it is located in the eastern equatorial Pacific (10S-0, 90W-80W), just south and west (oops) east of the Galapagos Islands.

You’ll note also that I’ve highlighted the 2006/07 El Niño. Of the group shown, it is the only east Pacific El Niño.  The others are El Niño Modoki (central Pacific El Niños).  See the posts There Is Nothing New About The El Nino Modoki and Comparison of El Nino Modoki Index and NINO3.4 SST Anomalies, and also see the JAMSTEC ENSO Modoki webpage (El Niño Modoki are a new category.  Historically, they are not a new type of event.)

There’s so much spaghetti in the following two graphs, there’s no reason for me to describe them, other than to say there’s lots of diversity during the evolutions of El Niño events.

Figure 1

Figure 1

# # # #

Figure 2

Figure 2

Obviously, each El Niño starts from a different background, in terms of sea surface temperature anomalies.  (We’ve already discussed the ocean heat content and subsurface temperature anomalies, noting that both are lower now than they were at the start of the 1997/98 El Niño. See the post here.)

COMPARISONS WITH AVERAGES OF SATELLITE-ERA EL NIÑOS (INCLUDING THE 1982/83 & 1997/98 EL NIÑOS)

Figures 3 and 4 follow the same formats.  But with them, we’re comparing the evolutions of the 2014/15 El Niño (so far) to the averages of all of the satellite-era El Niño events, including the 1982/83 and 1997/98 El Niños.  Now in 2014, NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies are warmer than average, and NINO1+2 anomalies are cooler than average.

Figure 3

Figure 3

# # # #

Figure 4

Figure 4

Do the below-average readings in the NINO1+2 region mean that the 2014/15 El Niño will be a central Pacific El Niño and not the stronger east Pacific variety?  Not necessarily.  As you’ll recall from Part 3 of the series, the 2014 NINO1+2 values are similar to those at the start of the 1982/83 El Niño.  See the graph here.  And the 1982/83 El Niño was a strong El Niño—no doubt about that.

SOURCES

The weekly sea surface temperature anomaly data presented in this post is available through the NOAA NOMADS website:

http://nomad1.ncep.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/pdisp_sst.sh

or:

http://nomad3.ncep.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/pdisp_sst.sh?lite=

EARLIER POSTS IN THIS SERIES

FURTHER READING

My ebook Who Turned on the Heat? goes into much more detail to explain El Niño and La Niña processes and the long-term aftereffects of strong El Niño events. I’ve lowered the price of Who Turned on the Heat? from U.S.$8.00 to U.S.$5.00.  A free preview in pdf format is here.  The preview includes the Table of Contents, the Introduction, the first half of section 1 (which was provided complete in the post here), a discussion of the cover, and the Closing. Take a run through the Table of Contents.  It is a very-detailed and well-illustrated book—using data from the real world, not models of a virtual world. Who Turned on the Heat? is only available in pdf format…and will only be available in that format.  Click here to purchase a copy.  Thanks.

NEXT POST

The next post in the series will be about the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and its relationship to ENSO…unless, of course, the weekly NINO3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies reach the 0.5 deg C threshold of an El Niño.   I started writing the PDO post about a month ago.  It’s an appropriate time to raise the topic again since the PDO is often referred to in blog posts about the upcoming El Niño.

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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 2014-15 El Nino Series, El Nino-La Nina Processes. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 4 – Early Evolution – Comparison with Other Satellite-Era El Niños

  1. hmmm says:

    Now I’d like to see a similar comparison with non-El-Nino years in order to judge the forecasting barrier and when we get past that hump, for myself. There is also one important presentation you forgot to add: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvmeUStFvz8

  2. Thanks, Bob. A good article helping understand more about ENSO.
    Thanks to your good work there is now a lot more understanding of this critical climate feature of Earth’s ocean circulations.
    I have just published an article on the AMO, but it was not complete without quoting your work.

  3. hunter says:

    Bob,
    Fascinating work, as always. If we were in normal times you would be publishing a column in a mainstream science publication with the goal of explaining science to the public.
    An implication I take away from your recent work on El Nino is that el Nino is a spectrum of phenomena, not just a particular event. Is that correct.

  4. Bob Tisdale says:

    hunter, to prevent me from going off on a tangent, please clarify “spectrum of phenomena”.

    Thanks.

  5. Arska says:

    Hello Bob

    I think I have found quite a big correlation between El Nino and Scandinavian long time temperature records. It seems that our temperature responds within 23 month lag to every strong or medium strength El Nino Event. Between these events our tempeature records are cooling or stayng flat. So our “climate change” is basically only driven by El Nino events…
    El Nino in scandinavia

    El Nino in scandinaviapart2

  6. Bob Tisdale says:

    Thanks, Arska. Have you also checked the Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation?

  7. Arska says:

    Hello Bob

    Yes, I have checked the correlation and temperature rocords correlate quite well with AO and AMO. But with the El Nino record it possible to “forecast” climate two years ahead. It is quite interesting that every moderate to strong El Nino can be found on our scandinavian records…

  8. Bob Tisdale says:

    Thanks again, Arska.

    Regards

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  11. Green Sand says:

    Hi Bob, interesting study, many thanks

    I have been following but only comparing with 97/98 (major) and 09/10 (latest). It would appear (will stand correction) that the present, if it plays out, is starting from a higher global SST base. Approx +0.3c (Reynolds Wk 15) versus approx 0.15C for 97/98 and 09/10. I know you are a busy man but do you have any thoughts on how this event may affect global SST?

  12. Bob Tisdale says:

    Green Sand: There are toooo many unknowns. Will it be an East Pacific or a Central Pacific El Nino? It looks like it might become an east Pacific event, but much can change. And how strong will it be? Dunno. A strong central Pacific El Nino would likely cause an upward shift in the sea surface temperatures of the South Atlantic-Indian-West Pacific sea surface temperatures, but a strong East Pacific event would likely cause a greater shift. Another big question is the North Atlantic. Has the AMO peaked, or will a strong El Nino cause another upward extension of the warming there? And what residual impact will that unusual warming event in the extratropical North Pacific have on ENSO responses there and elsewhere?

  13. Green Sand says:

    Thanks Bob, Nino 1 & 2 on the rise so looks like an East Pacific event. If there are toooo many variables for you then I will have to fall back on my other great source of knowledge “Time” he usually comes through in the end!

    Lots going on at present, SOI and OLR numbers moving about, not in a set pattern yet.

    Thanks again

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