Nov 102014
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I usually shoot for the end of September to write my first post for the winter. Historically, this is because Arizona Snowbowl was dependent on natural snow. Now, they make their own snow. As a result, making the early decision about buying a season pass at a discount doesn’t matter so much.

As early as last spring, the media started to hype an oncoming “Monster El Nino.” A body of warm water moved across the Pacific Ocean from west to east, deep below the surface. To many it looked like a sure bet that this would be the first of many such warming events. I watched and waited.

There are two key components to having a successful El Nino. First, you need the warmer than normal water in the equatorial Pacific. Second, you need the equatorial trade winds to shift from their normal westerly direction to the east. The equatorial waters did warm. The trade winds did not shift. I’m going to go a bit deeper. If you want to go much deeper I strongly recommend Bob Tisdale’s 2014-2015 El Nino Series. He goes into deep detail and you can watch the entire evolution. I am going to use Anthony Watt’s ENSO Page at WattsUpWithThat site for a data source. He has collected a great deal of data from around the world that is difficult to find.

The equatorial Pacific has warmed. Occasionally, it has warmed above the El Nino threshold of 0.5 degrees above normal in the ENSO 3.4 region. The map below shows this region.

El Nino regions

El Nino regions

The warm water did arrive over the summer. The 3.4 region temperature anomaly did turn positive. The graph below from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology shows the anomaly. Over the summer, the anomaly barely crossed above the half degree line. It then fell almost all the way back to zero.

Niño 3.4 Region Sea Surface Temperature Index - 5 Years

Niño 3.4 Region Sea Surface Temperature Index – 5 Years

The problem causing the fall was that the trade winds did not reverse to support full El Nino conditions. As summer went on, more warm water arrived and the temperature trend reversed again.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) monitors the difference in surface air pressure between Darwin, Australia and Tahiti. From this data, they calculate the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). The pressure difference is indicative of which direction the winds are blowing. A negative value of the SOI indicates that the winds have shifted to support El Nino conditions. The threshold for El Nino conditions is -8. A graph below shows the SOI over the last 5 years. In the last 3 months shown, the SOI has been negative and at least close to -8. (August -11.4, September -7.5, October -8)

Graph of the Southern Oscillation Index

Southern Oscillation Index from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

It looks like the winds may have finally shifted. The sea surface temperatures are shifting. But, is it sustainable. Keep in mind that El Nino means the boy, and refers to the Christmas celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth. The warm waters would be recognized around Christmas time. There is another body of warm water transiting beneath the surface of the Pacific. This should arrive before Christmas. It could be the icing on the El Nino cake. Before you get your hopes too high, most of the outlooks are for weak El Nino conditions at best.

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