Monday, February 10, 2014

Preliminary ENSO Outlook for Winter 2014-2015

As we close out the winter of 2013-2014, I suppose it's time we start looking at forecasts for the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon for this summer to see what ENSO state we may see in the winter of 2014-2015.

Before we begin, let's establish what the El Nino-Southern Oscillation is.

The El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon involves sea surface temperature anomalies over a portion of the Equatorial Pacific, namely focusing on the waters west of Colombia and Ecuador. In the image above, the Climate Prediction Center shows distinct El Nino environments (left two panels) and La Nina environments (right panels). During an El Nino, water temperatures to the west of Ecuador usually warm up significantly. These warm temperatures then produce anomalously high levels of tropical convection (as warm waters make air rise, creating thunderstorms), and the whole process leads to an El Nino pattern. During a La Nina, we see the opposite, where colder than normal water temperatures are observed, leading to anomalously low levels of tropical convection. As you can see by the image below, the El Nino patterns and La Nina patterns during the winter months have different impacts on the US.

Now that we know what the ENSO phenomenon is, let's move on to the model forecasts.

We'll begin with the NCEP's CFS model. The CFS projects monthly and seasonal values for the ENSO phenomenon, and also gives out precipitation, SST, temperature, etc. forecasts for the world. The CFS model indicates we will see steady rising of sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific throughout the spring, summer and beginning of fall, before we reach SST temperature anomalies above 1 degree Kelvin, which is equal to over 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. This would qualify as a strong El Nino, something we haven't seen for a while (we have been in an unprecedented lack of El Nino events since 2010; the four-year stretch since 2010 has included neutral ENSO and La Nina events). This strong El Nino would then likely continue on into the winter of 2014-2015. However, because the CFS model is notorious for forecasting an El Nino that never comes true, I'm not buying this forecast. While I do believe we see an El Nino event by this summer 2014, I don't believe it will be a strong El Nino.

Next, we will continue with the ECMWF model's forecast. The ECMWF model projects the ENSO phenomenon out to roughly 6 months forecast time, and uses its prestigious 52-member ensemble prediction system in its forecast. The ECMWF model also projects that we will see an El Nino by the summer, though its rise to an El Nino is more exponential than linear- we saw the steady rising trend in sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTAs) in a linear fashion by the CFS, and now we see an exponential increase in SSTAs around May and June 2014. By July 2014, ECMWF ensemble guidance has water temperatures at 1 degree Celsius above normal, which equates to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. This would also qualify as a strong El Nino, but once again, I'm skeptical of these strong El Nino forecasts. While they're possible, I'm not so sure they're probable.

Next, we'll take a look at the Japanese ENSO model prediction. The Japanese model forecasts the ENSO phenomenon out to just after July 2014, about the same forecast time period as the ECMWF model. The Japanese model goes for a forecast similar to the ECMWF, where we see a jump in SSTAs around May and June, before arriving in the ~0.8 to 0.9 degree Celsius anomaly. That would constitute an El Nino, though it would be weaker than projections by the CFS and ECMWF. I find this forecast much more logical- it's always a gamble when you go with strong El Nino or strong La Nina forecasts. Usually its better to go with a weaker, albeit still substantial forecast.

Next up is the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's POAMA model. The POAMA model projects the ENSO phenomenon out to October, with a forecast time period of roughly 8 months. The POAMA model takes the current cool-neutral ENSO state to neutral by June, and borderline-El Nino by October. This forecast might be a little too weak with the idea of an El Nino- I wouldn't be surprised to see an El Nino declared by late summer (around August or September). However, the POAMA does give us a glimpse at the other side of the forecast envelope, when comparing it to the bullish ECMWF/CFS forecasts.

Next, we'll take a brief glance at this trio of forecasts. These three forecasts are under the LDEO model domain, which gives forecasts out to December 2014, meaning its forecast time period is roughly 1 year when we see that the red observation line stops at December 2013. In these three projections, we see that a weak El Nino or warm-neutral ENSO state is favored by the winter of 2014-2015. I expect we see an El Nino by this time, so these models may be a little too under-aggressive with this situation.

The next item to analyze is the NMME model suite. The NMME is a compilation of various global model guidance systems, all of which project the ENSO phenomenon using an ensemble set out to 8 months. In this graphic, we see the projected ENSO values by operational and ensemble members from the CFS model (red), two separate versions of the CMC model (CMC1 in green and CMC2 in navy blue), the GFDL model (light blue), NASA's model (pink), NCAR's model (yellow), and the NMME suite mean (black dashed line). The NMME suite is in decent agreement on a steady rise to El Nino conditions by the end of summer, something I do believe is likely. The NMME mean has the El Nino in weak to moderate condition by August, something I think is more probable than possible, especially considering history would suggest an El Nino is long overdue this next winter. In summary, I agree with the NMME projection.

The next suite of models to observe comes from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. These models project the ENSO phenomenon out to the August-September-October period, meaning the forecast timeframe is around 10 months. This graphic gives us a look at a variety of model guidance systems from around the world. Each different model is displayed in a different color, with the average ENSO prediction shown in the solid yellow line. We see that the ensemble prints out a borderline-El Nino by the fall months. Considering we are almost certainly heading towards an El Nino next winter, this forecast is a good median in the envelope of forecast models.

This final model shows the SST anomaly forecast for the December-January-February 2014-2015 period from the SCRIPPS institute. The SCRIPPS institute model projects the ENSO Phenomenon out to this DJF period. We can see that the model shows a strong El Nino by late winter. As I've gone through all of these models, some of which have been showing a strong El Nino, I still hold my belief that these models are likely too strong, and a weak to moderate El Nino is more likely. These details will be cleared up in the months ahead, of course.



Jim said...

Been in the biz for 35 years, you don't get the worst winter in decades, then end up with a mild one. Just doesn't work that way. We'll see 3-4 years of bad winters. And remember I said that! Write it down, stick it on your fridge!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jim and the start was mid last winter 2012-2013 winter...I have notice the same pattern over my years of life.

Anonymous said...

So jim and anony, do you think el nino wouldnt happen in 2014 ?

Peter Kane said...

Jim, you can have a very cold winter one year and a warm on another year. That was the same with 2003-2004 being a very cold one like this one, and the following winter, 2004-2005, was a pretty mild one. Another example is the 1993-1994 winter being very cold like this one, and the 1994-1995 winter was a pretty mild one with an El NiƱo. Yet another example is the 2010-2011 winter being pretty cold, and then the 2011-2012 winter being pretty mild. I do not expect 3-4 years more of cold winters, and please do not let Andrew post that nasty comment on his fridge.

Cliff Roseboom said...

Peter,I'm siding with jim.we will have cold winter well after this year's winter. .I see many bad winters ahead for the next still will have some winters with your typical Indian summers but that would only be breif..Most of the winter season s for the next 6years will be extremely cold for the most part and snowy at time's with some good serious storms cconsecutively for the entire 6 years..I will bet you on this if you notice all the volcanic activities throughout the world and a few that are erupting now,that in itself will cause global temps to fall and change weather patterns throughout the world. We will have colder winters after my 6 year prediction but not as bad as what we are headed won't get back to normal until the volcanic activities cease...remember me next year..put this on your

Anthony DeFusco said...

From my past observations and over 30 years in the snow and ice management business, I tend to agree that the next couple of winters will be similar to the one that we just experienced...

mattzweck said...

i remember the el nino we had here in southern California 1997-1998 was the worst ever other day rainy the next storm would move in at night.

Anonymous said...

I do not think we will have another cold winter like we had for 2014, for one i have always watched the furs and birds for winter storage and the fruit trees, when you get lots of fruit you get hard winter, this yr in spring of 2014 no fruit mild winter, the animals lose their hair late in the spring of 2014 chilly summer wet damp, in 2015 winter mild , if they get their coats in October bad winter, but since they held them for so long this summer its already a sign of mild winter, birds are not storing as much and squirrels , easy winter , i am 60 yrs old and have always observed this