IRI ENSO Update / Forecast
IRI Probabilistic ENSO Forecast
Technical ENSO Update
ENSO Prediction Plume
Technical ENSO Update
19 November 2009
Current ConditionsAs of mid-November 2009, SSTs are above-average across much of the equatorial Pacific, indicative of El Niño conditions. Between mid-June and mid-July, SSTs in the east-central tropical Pacific warmed to levels indicative of weak El Niño conditions. Starting in October, strong and persistent westerly wind anomalies in the western Pacific, and extending into the central Pacific, substantially increased the magnitude of the warm SST anomalies. The traditional Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) became very negative during October, as did the equatorial SOI. Intermittent, mostly positive convection anomalies have been observed near and just west of the dateline during the last few months, and such anomalies appeared again, and more strongly, during October. On the oceanic side, equatorial heat content has continued to be above-average since early in the year, and has become larger during October. The SST anomalies may still strengthen further in response to the recent wind anomalies that have deepened the thermocline in the eastern part of the basin.
For October 2009, the SST anomaly in the NINO3.4 region was 0.99 C, barely sufficient to be classified as moderate El Niño conditions for this time of year, For the Aug-Sep-Oct season the anomaly was 0.88 degrees C. Currently the IRI's definition of El Niño conditions rests on an index of SST anomalies, averaged over the NINO3.4 region (5S-5N; 170W-120W), exceeding the warmest 25%-ile of the historical distribution, and similarly for La Niña relative to the 25%-ile coldest conditions in the historical distribution. The NINO3.4 anomaly necessary to qualify as La Niña or El Niño conditions for the Nov-Dec-Jan and the Dec-Jan seasons are approximately (-0.70C, 0.75) and (-0.65, 0.65), respectively.
Expected ConditionsThe most recent weekly SST anomaly in the NINO3.4 region is 1.7 C. This is a full degree warmer than last month at this time, and indicates moderate-to-strong El Niño conditions in the tropical Pacific. What is the outlook for the ENSO status going forward? The westerly wind anomalies along the equator in the western Pacific have died down as of November, but those active in October provided substantial deep anomalies to the central and eastern thermocline. The spatial pattern of SST anomalies, and of the subsurface temperature anomalies, has become much more structured and reminiscent of El Niño events. It is still not clear, however, to what extent this pattern of SST anomalies will encourage a strong atmosphere response that would lead to air-sea couping of the type observed in strong El Niño events. It is possible that well timed, but independent, intra-seasonal variability in the atmosphere could provide such a kick to the ocean. However, incorporation of such variability is largely beyond the capability of current ENSO prediction models.
November is a time of year when existing ENSO events are near their mature phase, and typically persist for several subsequent months. Therefore, it seems most likely that El Niño conditions will persist through the end of the year, and given the current subsurface anomalies, it may strengthen further.
Presently, the models and observations taken together indicate
probabilities of about 96% for maintaining El Niño conditions
and about 3% for dissipation to ENSO-neutral
conditions for the Nov-Dec-Jan season in progress.
Going forward, probabilities for El Niño stay above 90% until
Feb-Mar-Apr, after which they decrease to approximately 55% by
Apr-May-Jun 2010, falling to climatological probabilities of 25%
by Jul-Aug-Sep. Probabilities for La Niña conditions are
predicted to be negligible for the next several months, not exceeding
10% until Apr-May-Jun 2010.
The above assessment was made in part on the basis of an examination of the current forecasts of ENSO prediction models as well as the observed conditions. For purposes of this discussion, El Niño SST conditions are defined as SSTs in the NINO3.4 region being in the warmest 25% of their climatological distribution for the 3-month period in question over the 1950-present timeframe. The corresponding cutoff in terms of degrees C of SST anomaly varies seasonally, being close to 0.40 degrees C in boreal late-spring to early-summer season and as high as 0.75 degrees C in late boreal autumn. La Niña conditions are defined as NINO3.4 region SSTs being in the coolest 25% of the climatological distribution. Neutral conditions occupy the remaining 50% of the distribution. These definitions were developed such that the most commonly accepted El Niño and La Niña episodes are reproduced.
The models are somewhat varied in their ENSO forecasts
through the 10-month forecast period. The statistical and dynamical
models are in agreement in predicting El Niño conditions through
the end of this year. The warmest
NINO3.4 forecasts come from the dynamical models. For the current
Nov-Dec-Jan season, most (95%) are predicting El Niño
conditions, and 5% predict ENSO-neutral conditions.
At lead times of 4 or more months into the future, statistical and
dynamical models that incorporate information about the ocean's
observed sub-surface thermal structure generally exhibit higher
predictive skill than those that do
not. Among models that do use sub-surface temperature information, 14
of 15 (93%) indicate El Niño conditions for the Mar-Apr-May
season, and 1 of 15 (7%) predict ENSO-neutral SSTs. (Note
1). Caution is
advised in interpreting the distribution of model forecasts as the
actual probabilities. At longer leads, the skill of the models
degrades, and skill uncertainty must be convolved with the
uncertainties from initial conditions and differing model physics,
leading to more climatological probabilities in the long-lead ENSO
Outlook than might be suggested by the suite of models.
Furthermore, the expected skill
of one model versus another has not been established using uniform
validation procedures, which may cause a difference in the true
probability distribution from that taken verbatim from the raw
An alternative way to assess the probabilities of the three
possible ENSO conditions is to use the mean of the forecasts of all
models, and to construct a standard error function centered on that
mean. The standard error would be Gaussian in shape, and would have its
width determined by an estimate of overall expected model skill for the
season of the year and the lead time. Higher skill would result in a
relatively narrower error distribution, while low skill would result in
an error distribution with width approaching that of the historical
observed distribution. This method shows probabilities for El
Niño at about 95% for Nov-Dec-Jan and Dec-Jan-Feb, declining to near
65% by Apr-May-Jun 2010 and 50% by May-Jun-Jul. The same
cautions mentioned above for the distribution of model forecasts apply
to this alternative method of inferring probabilities, due to differing
model biases and skills. In particular,
this approach considers only the mean of the predictions, and not the
range across the models, nor the ensemble range within individual
probabilistic ENSO forecast takes into account the indications of
this set of models, the outcome of the standard error approach
described above, and additional factors such as the very latest
observations that may have developed after the initialization times of
some of the models. It indicates a 96% probability for El Niño
conditions in the Nov-Dec-Jan season in progress, slowly decreasing to
near 75% for Mar-Apr-May 2010 and decreasing rapidly thereafter.
See also:Note 1 - Only models that produce a new ENSO forecast every month are included in the above statement.