The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 18 – October 2014 Update – One Last Chance?

This year started off with a subsurface weather event below the surface of the tropical Pacific that made researchers and global warming alarmists hope for a super-duper El Niño in 2014.  Sadly, things didn’t work out for them.  The trade winds refused to cooperate.  Now, there are replays taking place below the Pacific that could (<–crucial word) lead to an El Niño for the 2014/15 ENSO season.

This post provides an update on the progress of the evolution of the 2014/15 El Niño (assuming one forms) with data through the beginning of October 2014. The post is similar in layout to the earlier updates. (See the entire 2014/15 El Niño series of posts here.) The post includes 3 gif animations and 13 illustrations so the post might take a few moments to load on your browser.  Please click on the illustrations and animations to enlarge them.

Included are updates of the weekly sea surface temperature anomalies for the four most-often-used NINO regions. Also included are updates of the GODAS map-based animations of sea surface height anomalies, T300 anomalies (depth-averaged temperature anomalies to 300 meters), sea surface temperature anomalies, and the cross sections of temperature anomalies at depth along the equator. These animations start in January 2014 for the full progress of this year’s event(s). Also included are a couple of graphs of the BOM Southern-Oscillation Index (SOI).

We compared the evolution of the 2014/15 El Niño to the 1982/83 and 1997/98 El Niños in a number of posts in this series, back when this El Niño was being compared to those two strong events. More recently, NOAA and IRI are forecasting in their El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion (my boldface):

Most models predict El Niño to develop during October-December 2014 and to continue into early 2015 (Fig. 6). The consensus of forecasters indicates a 2-in-3 chance of El Niño during the November 2014 – January 2015 season. This El Niño will likely remain weak (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index between 0.5°C and 0.9°C) throughout its duration. In summary, El Niño is favored to begin in the next 1-2 months and last into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2015 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome).

(Thanks, Pamela Gray.)

So I’ve changed the reference El Niños for the evolution comparisons. The new references are the 2002/03 and 2009/10 El Niños. These reference El Niños are stronger than what NOAA and IRI are now forecasting (I’m giving the little El Niño something to strive for), but they are far lower than the ones we used earlier this year.

And since we’ve been watching the downwelling (warm) Kelvin wave as it makes its way east along the equator in the Pacific, also included in this post are evolution comparisons using warm water volume anomalies and depth-averaged temperature anomalies from the NOAA TOA project website.

Then, we’ll take a look at a number of Hovmoller diagrams comparing the progress so far this year to what happened in both 2002 and 2009.


Note: The NOAA NOMADS website is still off-line, so I used the weekly NINO region sea surface temperature anomaly data for Figures 1 and 2 from the NOAA/CPC Monthly Atmospheric & SST Indices webpage, specifically the data here.  The data from NOAA NOMADS was provided with oodles of significant figures, while the NOAA/CPC data are provided in tenths of a degree C. The base years for anomalies through NOMADS were 1971-2000, while the NOAA/CPC data are referenced to 1981-2010. So, along with the changes to the reference El Niños, that explains why the graphs are a little different than what you’re used to seeing.

Figure 1 includes the weekly sea surface temperature anomalies of the 4 most-often-used NINO regions of the equatorial Pacific. From west to east they include:

  • NINO4 (5S-5N, 160E-150W)
  • NINO3.4 (5S-5N, 170W-120W)
  • NINO3 (5S-5N, 150W-90W)
  • NINO1+2 (10S-0, 90W-80W)

As of last week, the sea surface temperature anomalies in the NINO1+2 regions were still elevated, while the NINO3 and NINO4 regions are at the +0.5 deg threshold of El Niño conditions. In the NINO3.4 region, the most widely referenced of the regions, sea surface temperature anomalies are below the threshold, meaning the east-central equatorial Pacific is in ENSO-neutral conditions.


Figure 1


Using weekly sea surface temperature anomalies for the four NINO regions, Figure 2  compares of the evolutions of this El Niño with the 2002/03 and 2009/10 events.

02 NINO Region Evolution

Figure 2


In the first post in this series, we discussed a number of animations of maps and animations of equatorial cross sections that are available from the NOAA Global Ocean Data Assimilation System (GODAS) website.  Each cell of the animation is a 5-day (pentadal) average. Those animations ran from January 3rd to March 29th. The following are updates, again starting in January 3rd.  GODAS only maintains their animations for 3 months.  I’ve stored the maps since the first of the year and have continued to add maps as time progresses.

Animation 1 provides the sea surface height anomalies and the depth-averaged temperature anomalies for the top 300 meters (T300) side by side.

Animation 1 SSH v T300

Animation 1

Animation 2 is a similar side-by-side comparison, but on the left are maps of sea surface temperature anomalies and on the right are the H300 maps. The sea surface temperature maps trail the others by a pentad or two, which is why they do not run through July 2.  My apologies for the shift in the color scaling for the range of +0.5 to +1.0 deg C in the sea surface temperature anomaly maps.  That appears to be a quirk in my computer, not the GODAS website.

Animation 2 SST v T300

Animation 2

Animation 3 is an update of the cross sections of temperature anomalies at depth along the equator.

Animation 3 Cross Section

Animation 3

The year began with the initial strong downwelling (warm) Kelvin wave.  We discussed and illustrated in the post The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 14 – Warm Water Recirculated? how some of the subsurface warm water had spilled off the equator, traveled west and had then recirculated back to the equator.  That warm water was then carried eastward in what is now being called (a second) downwelling Kelvin wave.  Figure 3 shows the GODAS subsurface temperature anomaly profile along the equator back in early August.

03 Start of Recent Kelvin Wave

Figure 3

In the last post The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 17 – Is There Still Hope for a Moderate El Niño?, we discussed how there appears to have been a new influx of warmer-than-normal water at depth along the equator in the western equatorial Pacific. See the subsurface temperature anomalies in Figure 4 for the pentad dated October 5th. That warm water should migrate eastward along the equator, carried by the subsurface Cromwell Current (a.k.a. Pacific equatorial undercurrent), helping to supply the warm water for an El Niño.

04 Recent Influx

Figure 4

Then all we need is the trade winds to respond, providing the atmospheric feedback necessary to further evolve the El Niño. That is, a couple of westerly wind bursts in the western equatorial Pacific will likely be needed.


The NOAA Tropical Atmosphere-Ocean (TAO) Project website includes data for two temperature-related datasets for the equatorial Pacific.  See their Upper Ocean Heat Content and ENSO webpage for descriptions of the datasets.   The two datasets are Warm Water Volume (above the 20 deg C isotherm) and the Depth-Averaged Temperatures for the top 300 meters (aka T300).  Both are available for the:

  • Western Equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 120E-155W)
  • Eastern Equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 155W-80W)
  • Equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 120E-80W)

Keep in mind that the longitudes of 120E-80W stretch 160 deg, almost halfway around the globe. For a reminder of width of the equatorial Pacific, see the protractor-based illustration here.

In the following three graphs, we’re comparing data for the evolution of the 2014/15 El Niño so far (through month-to-date October 2014) with the data for the evolutions of the 2002/03 and 2009/10 El Niños. The Warm Water Volume data are the top graphs and the depth-averaged temperature data are the bottom graphs.  As you’ll see, the curves of two datasets are similar.

Let’s start with the Western Equatorial Pacific (5S-5N, 120E-155W), Figure 5. The warm water volume and depth-averaged temperature data show the Western Equatorial Pacific had slightly less warm water or was slightly cooler this year than during the opening months of 2009. But 2014 had more warm water or was warmer than 2002.  For 2014, the warm water volume and temperature to depth in the west dropped as the initial Kelvin wave this year carried some water east, but it has since rebounded.

05 TAO WWV and Temp West

Figure 5

The warm water volume and depth-averaged temperature data for the eastern equatorial Pacific are shown in Figure 6.  This year, the eastern equatorial data both rose, a result of the Kelvin wave carrying warm water from the West Pacific Warm Pool to the east.  Most of that warm water in the east has now been consumed, released to the atmosphere through evaporation or distributed away from the equator.  At present, the two metrics are comparable to the September 2009 values, but well below the 2002 September values.

06 TAO WWV and Temp East

Figure 6

As a result, across the entire equatorial Pacific, Figure 7, warm water volume is lower, and depth-averaged temperatures are less, in 2014 than they were in 2002. Then again, they’re higher or comparable to the conditions in 2009. For this year, the warm water initially increased across the entire equatorial Pacific, as warm water from off the equator circulated to the equator. Then the warm water decreased as it rose to the surface and evaporated or was redistributed from the equator.

07 TAO WWV and Temp Total

Figure 7

The NODC ocean heat content data for April-June 2014 are available. We’ll discuss it later in the post.


The reasons an El Niño did not continue to form this year in response to the Kelvin wave are well established. First, the atmospheric component of ENSO, the “SO” part, refused to cooperate.  That is, the trade winds in the western equatorial Pacific did not weaken as expected to help reinforce the El Niño development. (The other reason, of course, was the upwelling (cool) Kelvin that formed in the wake of the downwelling (warm) Kelvin wave, the latter of which had everyone so excited earlier this year.  That trailing cool Kelvin wave helped to counteract the warm Kelvin wave.)

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 this 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 temperatures.  The September 2014 Southern Oscillation Index value is -7.5, which is within ENSO-neutral conditions but close to El Niño conditions. The BOM threshold for El Niño conditions is an SOI value of -8.0.  We had ventured into those levels in August, but the SOI has relaxed a little.  Figure 8 presents a time-series graph of the SOI data.

08 SOI

Figure 8

The graphs in Figure 9 compare the evolution of the SOI values this year to those in 2002 and 2009, the development years of the 2002/03 and 2009/10 El Niños. The top graph shows the raw data. Because the SOI data are so volatile, I’ve smoothed them with a 3-month filter in the bottom graph. Referring to the smoothed data, the Southern Oscillation Index this year is lagging well behind the values in 2002 but they are ahead of where they were in 2009.

09 SOI Evolution

Figure 9

For those of you interested in keeping a closer eye on the BOM Southern Oscillation Index, see the BOM Recent (preliminary) Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values webpage. For the past month, the 30-day running-average of the SOI had cycled into El Niño conditions, but now it is well back into ENSO-neutral.


In past updates, in the following Hovmoller diagrams, I’ve used the development of the 1997/98 and 1982/83 El Niños as a reference for this year’s El Niño. That now seems to be overkill, because the feedbacks never kicked in this year…where all of the feedbacks freakishly aligned for the 1997/98 El Niño.  The 1982/83 El Niño was a late bloomer; that is, it didn’t really start to take off until later in the year, and it was a very strong El Niño too.

Now, it’s unlikely that the El Niño, if it forms, would be a strong El Niño. So I’ve switched reference years for this post.

Hovmoller diagrams are a great way to display data.  If they’re new to you, there’s no reason to be intimidated by them. Let’s take a look at Figure 10.  It presents the Hovmoller diagrams of thermocline depth anomalies (the depth of the isotherm at 20 deg C.  Water warmer than 20 deg C is above the 20 deg C isotherm and below it the water is cooler). 2014 is in the center, 2002 on the left and 2009 to the right. GODAS, unfortunately, furnishes the illustrations (not the data) in different dimensions for some years. Thus the dimensions of the Hovmoller in the left are larger than the other two.

The vertical (y) axis in all the Hovmollers shown in this post is time with the Januarys at the top and Decembers at the bottom.  The horizontal (x) axis is longitude, so, moving from left to right in each of the three Hovmoller diagrams, we’re going from west to east…with the Indian Ocean in the left-hand portion, the Pacific in the center and the Atlantic in the right-hand portion.  We’re interested in the Pacific. The data are color-coded according to the scales below the Hovmollers. (Click to enlarge them.)

10 GODAS Hovmoller - Thermocline Depth Anomalies

Figure 10

Figure 10 is presenting the depth of the 20 deg C isotherm along a band from 2S to 2N. The positive anomalies, working their way eastward since the beginning of 2014, were caused by the downwelling Kelvin wave, which pushes down on the thermocline (the 20 deg C isotherm).  You’ll note how the anomalies grew in strength as the Kelvin wave migrated east. That does not mean the Kelvin wave is getting stronger as it traveled east; that simply indicates that the thermocline is normally closer to the surface in the eastern equatorial Pacific than it is in the western portion.  The secondary (and definitely weaker) downwelling Kelvin wave this year is also visible in the center Hovmoller.

Figure 11 presents the 2014-to-date along with the 2002 and 2009 Hovmollers for wind stress (not anomalies) along the equator.   The simplest way to explain them is that they’re presenting the impacts of the strengths and directions of the trade winds on the surfaces of the equatorial oceans. In this presentation, the effects of the east to west trade winds at various strengths are shown in blues, and the reversals of the trade winds into westerlies are shown in yellows, oranges and reds.  To explain the color coding, the trade winds normally blow from east to west.  Stronger than normal trade winds are associated with La Niñas; thus the cooler colors for stronger than normal east to west trade winds. The reversals of the trade winds (the yellows, oranges and reds) are the true anomalies and they’re associated with El Niños, which are the anomalous state of the tropical Pacific.  (A La Niña is simply an exaggerated normal state.)

11 GODAS Hovmoller - Wind Stress

Figure 11

The two westerly wind bursts shown in red in the western equatorial Pacific in 2014 are associated with the strong downwelling Kelvin wave that formed at the time. (See the post ENSO Basics: Westerly Wind Bursts Initiate an El Niño.)  Throughout both 2002 and 2009, there were series of westerly wind bursts in the western equatorial Pacific, with stronger ones later in the year.  We’ll need some more westerly wind bursts this year if the El Niño wants to grow up to be big and strong.

Figure 12 presents the Hovmollers of wind stress anomalies…just a different perspective.   Other than the two westerly wind bursts at the beginning of the year, the western equatorial Pacific has been quiet this year compared to 2002 and 2009.

12 GODAS Hovmoller - Wind Stress Anomalies

Figure 12

And Figure 13 presents the Hovmollers of sea surface temperature anomalies. Unfortunately, the Hovmoller of sea surface temperature anomalies is delayed a few weeks.  But as we’ve seen in the comparison graphs in Figure 2, the sea surface temperature anomalies of the NINO3.4 region in 2014 are behind those of 2002 and 2009, but in the eastern equatorial Pacific, the sea surface temperature anomalies this year in the NINO1+2 region are well above those in our two reference years.

13 GODAS Hovmoller - Sea Surface Temp Anomalies

Figure 13


Figure 14 presents the NODC ocean heat content data for the tropical Pacific (24S-24N, 120E-80W).  The graph starts in 1990.  The installation of the TAO project buoys was complete in the early 1990s, so the data are reasonable after then (before then, not so much). That data are then supplemented by ARGO floats starting around 2003 and there are occasional XBT readings all along.  I’ve highlighted the past 12-months or so in purple.  There was a minor upsurge in the ocean heat content of the tropical Pacific from late 2013 to the beginning of 2014, followed by a minor downtick. But the goings on this past year are dwarfed by the impacts of …

  • the 1995/96 La Niña (during which all of the warm water for the 1997/98 El Niño appeared),
  • the 1997/98 Super El Niño (which released to the atmosphere, and redistributed within the oceans, most of the heat gained during the 1995/96 La Niña), and
  • the 1998-01 La Niña (which replenished much of the warm water released by the 1997/98 El Niño. The continued rise until 2003/04 is likely the return of some of the warm water released and redistributed from the tropical Pacific as a result of the 1997/98 El Niño.)

14 NODC Trop Pac OHC

Figure 14


And for additional introductory discussions of El Niño processes see:


Yesterday, in the post Maybe It’s Time We Stopped Wasting Money Studying a Problem And Spent That Money Adapting to It, I discussed the Union of Concerned Scientists’ article Encroaching Tides.  At the end of it, the UCS were looking for donations “to work to advance clean, renewable energy and so much more”, making their article appear to be nothing more than a commercial.  Some of you might now see something similar in my promotion of my book Who Turned on the Heat? at the end of this post. But there is a difference.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a thinly disguised political activist group, while I’m playing the role of educator, trying to help people understand the processes of El Niño and La Niña and their contributions to long-term global warming. The Union of Concerned Scientists is promoting “clean, renewable energy”, while I use book sales to help pay the rent and put food on my table. The Union of Concerned Scientists is looking for a handout, while I’m providing a product.  With that in mind…

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.

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.

My sincerest thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy of Who Turned on the Heat? as a result of this series.  I learned a lot preparing it. I hope you’ve learned a lot, too.

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, ENSO Update. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 18 – October 2014 Update – One Last Chance?

  1. wernerkohl says:

    Hi Bob,
    thanks again for this new part.

    Small typo:
    The parts 16 and 17 are mixed up. Both report as being part 16.

  2. wernerkohl says:

    Sorry, my error. Maybe I’ve had one old version in my browser cache.

  3. Bob Tisdale says:

    Werner, you are extremely observant. I made a mistake numbering the post before this one. I corrected it in the title, but didn’t change the http address.


  4. Pamela Gray says:

    You are welcome. I have learned so much from you and still am learning. Some people are born to be great professors (whether you have the official title or not makes no difference). You are one of the few.

  5. Thanks, Bob. Good dissection.
    I’m still hoping for this El Niño 2014/15 to happen and bring some rain to California.

  6. Pamela Gray says:

    I always cross-check with our guy in Oregon regarding his forecast. He reminds me of you Bob. And both of you tend to get it right. In any event, NE Oregon wood stoves and snow plows will be working over time during the early winter and then can relax a bit into Spring.

    Click to access dlongrange.pdf

  7. Sig Silber says:

    Excellent analysis:
    Some have described the 2002/2003 and 2009/2010 El Ninos as Modokis: one Type I and the other Type II. Thus the current incipient El Nino with its warm Nino 1 & 2 would appear to be different than these historical El Nino’s.

    One more wrinkle in the mystery of this episode.

  8. Pingback: The 2014 15 El Niño – Part 19 – Is an El Niño Already Taking Place? | Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations

  9. Pingback: The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 19 – Is an El Niño Already Taking Place? | Watts Up With That?

  10. Pingback: The 2014/15 El Niño – November Update – The Little El Niño That Shoulda’-Woulda’-Coulda’ | Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations

  11. Pingback: The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 20 – November Update – The Little El Niño That Shoulda’-Woulda’-Coulda’ | Watts Up With That?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s