The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 20 – November Update – The Little El Niño That Shoulda’-Woulda’-Coulda’

And maybe it will.  Weekly sea surface temperature anomalies last week for the NINO3.4 region were at their highest level for the year. Then again, NINO1+2 region temperature anomalies have dropped to the 0.5 deg C threshold of an El Niño, making them the lowest since the last week of April.

But I have a feeling we’re going to close out this series next month with an overview of an El Niño that failed to form—at least in terms of sea surface temperature anomalies of the east-central equatorial Pacific.  As a result, the 2014/15 season won’t show up in the Oceanic Niño Index as an official El Niño.  The Southern Oscillation Index, on the other hand, may continue to show weak El Niño conditions.

We’ve got to admit the happenings this year in the tropical Pacific were educational, with:

  • the westerly wind bursts that initiated the big downwelling Kelvin wave,
  • the alarmism in the wake of the Kelvin wave (and now the alarmists look sillier than normal),
  • the lack of additional westerly winds bursts to support the evolution of the El Niño, and
  • the breaking away of the portion of the original downwelling Kevin wave, the return of that warm water to the west, and the recycling back to the equator of that warm water to form a secondary downwelling Kelvin wave (without the help of westerly wind bursts) to keep hopes alive.

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 November 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 more than a dozen 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).

Based on the post The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 19 – Is an El Niño Already Taking Place? I’ve added a discussion of the NOAA Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI).

We compared data for the evolution of the 2014/15 El Niño to the 1982/83 and 1997/98 El Niños in a number of posts early in this series, back when this El Niño was being compared to those two strong events in new reports.  More recently, we changed the reference El Niños for the evolution comparisons to the 2002/03 and 2009/10 El Niños. These reference El Niños are likely stronger than what we might expect in the next few months, but they are far weaker 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 (growling noise heard from me), 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 for all but the NINO1+2 region were well above the 0.5 deg C threshold of El Niño conditions.  Will they remain there?  That’s the question.  Note that the horizontal red lines in the graphs are the current readings, not the trends.

01 NINO Region SSTa

Figure 1


Using weekly sea surface temperature anomalies for the four NINO regions, Figure 2 compares the goings on this year 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 T300 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 first mention of the NOAA Multivariate ENSO Index in this series was in the recent post The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 19 – Is an El Niño Already Taking Place?  I’ve borrowed the preliminary discussion there and expanded on it.

The Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI) is another ENSO index published by NOAA.  It was created and is maintained by NOAA’s Klaus Wolter.  The Multivariate ENSO Index uses the sea surface temperatures of the NINO3 region of the equatorial Pacific, along with a slew of atmospheric variables…thus “multivariate”.

According to the most recent Multivariate ENSO Index update discussion, El Niño conditions no longer exist:

The updated (September-October) MEI has decreased by another 0.14 standard deviations to +0.36. Its current ranking has dropped by 2, thus missing the El Niño classification by 3, here defined as the top 20 values since 1950. The long anticipated emergence of El Niño conditions in 2014 appears to have lasted from April-May through July-August, only one month longer than two years ago.

The reference to “two years ago” was the El Niño that also failed to form in 2012.

As you’ll recall, only last month, there was still talk of El Niño in the MEI update discussion:

The long anticipated emergence of El Niño conditions in 2014 has been under way since May-June, despite the lack of signal in Niño 3.4 SST…and its sudden drop in the MEI this month.

Now, 2014 is being compared to the failed El Niño of the 2012 season.

While this wouldn’t help the current conditions, there’s something else to consider about the MEI.  El Niño and La Niña rankings according to the MEI aren’t based on fixed threshold values such as +0.5 for El Niño and -0.5 for La Niña.  The MEI El Niño and La Niña rankings are based on percentiles, top 30% for the weak to strong El Niños and the bottom 30% for the weak to strong La Niñas.   This is difficult to track, because, when using the percentile method, the thresholds of El Niño and La Niña conditions vary from one bimonthly period to the next, and they can change from year to year.

On the thread of the WUWT cross post of part 19 of this series, Willis Eschenbach was very kind and prepared a graph that shows the cyclical nature of the MEI El Niño and La Niña thresholds in his comment here. See Figure 3. (Thanks, Willis.)

03 MEI With Thresholds

Figure 3

In a reply to Willis, I zoomed in on the thresholds over the course of a year. See Figure 4.

04 mei-thresholds2

Figure 4

And as I noted then, That’s really awkward. For example, during A-S, it’s more difficult to be in El Niño conditions than it is in S-O.

Regardless, according to the MEI, we dropped out of El Niño conditions in the bi-monthly period of September-October 2014.


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)
  • Total 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 November 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, but not necessarily the same.

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.  Recall, some of the warm water from the initial downwelling Kelvin wave has already returned to the west.

05 TAO Western

Figure 5

As a result, the conditions in the western equatorial Pacific are currently warmer than they had been during the reference El Niños.

During those 2002/03 and 2009/10 El Niños, the warm water had traveled east by now. We can see that in the warm water volume and depth-averaged temperature data for the eastern equatorial Pacific.  See Figure 6.  This year, early in the 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, or returned to the west.  For month-to-date November, the two metrics are well below the values during the evolutions of the 2002/03 and 2009/10 El Niños.

06 TAO Eastern

Figure 6

As a result, across the entire equatorial Pacific, Figure 7, in 2014, warm water volume is lower than, and depth-averaged temperatures are comparable to, those in 2002. Then again, in 2014 warm water volume is higher than, but depth-averaged temperatures are lower than, those in 2009.

07 TAO Total

Figure 7

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.


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).  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 October 2014 Southern Oscillation Index value is -8.0, which is right at the threshold of El Niño conditions. (The BOM threshold for El Niño conditions is an SOI value of -8.0.)   Figure 8 presents a time-series graph of the SOI data.  Note that the horizontal red line is the October value, not a trend line.


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 BOM SOI Comparison

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 went from ENSO-neutral conditions to well into El Niño conditions, and the 90-day running-average remains in El Niño conditions.


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.

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 continue need a few westerly wind bursts this year if the El Niño is going to strengthen.

Figure 12 presents the Hovmollers of wind stress anomalies…just a different perspective.  But positive wind stress anomalies, at the low end of the color-coded scale, are actually a weakening of the trade winds, not a reversal.

12 GODAS Hovmoller - Wind Stress Anomalies

Figure 12

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.

NOTE: There are a number of wind stress-related images on meteorological websites.  Always check to see if they’re presenting absolute values or anomalies.

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 had been well above those in our two reference years.

13 GODAS Hovmoller - Sea Surface Temp Anomalies

Figure 13


The title of this post is a play off of a comment at my blog by Pamela Grey.  Thanks, Pamela.


And for additional introductory discussions of El Niño processes see:


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, ENSO Update. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 20 – November Update – The Little El Niño That Shoulda’-Woulda’-Coulda’

  1. Pamela Gray says:

    The ENSO weekly update is now flipping a coin to see if it happens. Reminds me of solar cycle predictions. Leif got it nearly right on that one because he was basing his understanding on the solar dynamo. I think you have gotten this one right for the same reasons regarding the oceanic dynamo. Though you do not peddle predictions, your phrasing has always been muted wrt the current El Nino processes. It has been and will continue to be a fascinating ride. Instructive. Intelligent. Conservatively and sparsely sprinkled with tongue in cheek. Well done.

    By the way, when I was a little girl I attended my grandmother’s dance school. We did a tap dance routine to The Little Red Engine That Could and performed in several NE Oregon talent shows. I was the caboose.

  2. Bob Tisdale says:

    Pamela, speaking of cabooses, I can recall, when I was somewhere around 9yo, being the caboose on one of those 20-person whips of hand-holding ice skaters, where the caboose was sent flying off at high speed. Luckily I flew over the reeds. That was the last time I did caboose detail, though I was more than willing to be closer to the start.

    Curiously, it was the adults who initiated them. Maybe it was their attempt to reduce the size of their families.

  3. Pamela Gray says:

    I am on the hunt. This recharge, discharge theory, which I am sure was picked up by researchers reading this blog, seem to be taking it seriously. I will find a readable version of this without dealing with a paywall. When I am on the hunt I cannot be stopped.

  4. Pamela Gray says:

    “Daily observations from 19 71 to 2010 reveal that every El Niño during this period was accompanied by congregated westerly wind bursts, suggesting a close relationship of these bursts with both “cold tongue” and “warm pool” El Niño events. With the addition of burst-like multiplicative noise to an intermediate ocean-atmosphere coupled model, it is shown that westerly wind bursts, by generating eastward equatorial surface currents and downwelling Kelvin waves, could be responsible for the existence of the warm pool El Niño and for the irregularity and extremes of the cold tongue El Niño. Whether these bursts give rise to one type of El Nino or the other depends on the timing of their occurrence relative to the phase of the recharge-discharge cycle of the equatorial upper ocean heat content.”

    Still searching for a preprint.

  5. Thanks, Bob. It seems like this El Niño is so weak it might turn out to be stillborn.
    I thought it useful to again show the graphic for the Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI):

    (updated on November 5th, 2014)

  6. Arska setä says:

    Hello again Bob

    I fine tuned my El Nino Predictor and it seems that it is workin pretty well…

  7. Pingback: Axel Timmermann and Kevin Trenberth Highlight the Importance of Natural Variability in Global Warming… | Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations

  8. Pingback: Final – The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 22 – January 2015 Update – You Make the Forecasts for the 2015/16 Season | Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations

  9. Pingback: Final – The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 22 – January 2015 Update – You Make the Forecasts for the 2015/16 Season * The New World

  10. Pingback: The 2014/15 El Niño Series Posts | Bob Tisdale – Climate Observations

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