February 21, 2017

La Nina is Dead. Can El Nino Be Far Behind?

I have sad news for all of you.

La Nina is dead.   Done. Finished. Terminated.   The final word came out a week ago, provided by the august U.S. Climate Prediction Center (see below).

And it appear that we have a better than even chance of moving back into the El Nino pattern again, a configuration that leads to generally less snow over the Pacific Northwest.

To track the oscillation between La Nina, Neutral conditions, to El Nino and back again, meteorologists follow the sea surface temperatures (SST) in tropical Pacific.  As I have noted in past blogs, this variation, also called El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), represents a sloshing of the warm water in tropical Pacific.  When the water sloshes towards the east we have El Nino, when it sloshes to the west, La Nina.  You can think of the tropical Pacific as a giant bathtub.

To get a handle on what the sloshing is up to, meteorologists follow the SSTs for a few areas in the tropical Pacific (the Nino 4, Nino 3.4, Nino 3 and Nino 1+2 areas).  The figure below shows their locations.

The general approach is to track the SST anomalies (differences from normal) for these areas, with Nino 3.4 being probably the most popular. When Nino 3.4 has a warm anomaly greater than +.5C we have El Nino, an anomaly of -.5C or less, La Nina.   Near zero, a neutral or La Nada period.

Here are the latest graphs of SST anomalies.  Viewing the Nino 3.4 graph, you can see we had a weak La Nina for a while, but now temperatures are slightly on the warm side---we are in neutral conditions and probably have been for a few months.

What about the future?  The Climate Prediction Center provides a nice graphic of  past and predicted SST anomalies from many different ENSO forecasting systems (see below).   Forget La Nina.  Some of the model stay in neutral territory, but half move toward El Nino.

 The main U.S. seasonal model, CFSv2, is run as an ensemble (many forecasts).  Although there is a lot of uncertainty, most runs are heading towards El Nino.

Digesting all of the this information, the Climate Prediction Center is going for neutral conditions continuing into spring, but equal chances of moving toward El  Nino by midsummer, and a tendency towards El Nino by fall.

 Let me stress that ENSO forecasts made mid-winter have been notoriously bad.  Skill for the upcoming year increases substantially by summer.

One thing you can be sure about:  with our reservoirs in decent shape and a near normal snowpack, the water situation in the NW looks excellent for this summer. And with California soaked this winter and its reservoirs filled, vegetable/fruit prices should be more modest than in past years.


  1. Why is the fact that La Nina is dead 'sad' news? I say good riddance, and I'm sure the folks in California would agree.

    1. As a resident of the SF Bay Area and veteran of 27 years in Seattle, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with you. Ugh!

  2. Thank you Cliff...The drylander from the east...profile is fantastic!

  3. Vegetable prices might be lower due to more water, but we have yet to see the full impact of the loss of thousands of migrant farm workers. A labor shortage may lead to huge price increases.

  4. Considering nothing seems normal anymore an El Nino means absolutely nothing for us in SoCal after last year mega El Nino was moved aside by the ridiculous high pressure.

  5. "Let me stress that ENSO forecasts made mid-winter have been notoriously bad"

    Implying what, that the summer and fall forecasts have been accurate? Remember the NOAA forecast in the fall of 2015 for a dry winter? "The chief indicator of upcoming weather is a strong El Niño, a climate pattern marked by warm waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator." - that is from the Seattle Times on 9/23/15 as the media breathlessly predicted - urged on by the DOE - that "the climate deck may be stacked against us" (Stranger 9/24/15) as we headed for unrelenting drought.

    That ended up being a mind-numbing joke. And a lot of credibility was lost among your profession Cliff and rightly so. That prediction was so over-hyped... and ultimately so painfully wrong that there was denial - and there still appears to be denial - how wrong it was.

    I am tired of the continuous forecasts of low precip and low snowpack. It happens every year like clockwork, and the truth is both are increasing as measured by the actual statistics (and that includes years like 14/15 when precip was normal but snowpack was not). Whatever happened to the dire forecasts - going on decades now - of snowpack decline in the Cascades? Whatever happened to the forecasts of permanent drought in California? When do we finally hear that all of the fear, and all of the intimidation (remember the intimidation?) was wrong.

    Or do we just keep saying it will happen, but not this year.... next year! Yes, that's the ticket! Next year will be terrible and horrible, so start getting scared right... now.

  6. Would a new El Nino bring an end to the low hurricane activity of the last decade?

  7. Mother nature will do what she likes ,sky is falling crowd be damned ��


  8. "La Nina is DEAD", you say
    With our oceans sucking-up,all the carbon,and hold back the heat,it wont be long before the Pacific 'BURPS' up all of the carbon it's absorbed...
    Then we will see an expansion of Global Warming beyond precedence !

    AHHHH ! ! !

    That will suck !

  9. If you listening to the hype, your listening to the hype. Focus on the science and people who bring statistics and theory to the table.

  10. Sure KR, whatever you say, I'm sure it's 100% correct. Because making Doomsday predictions means never having to say you're sorry afterwards.

  11. Cliff, would you please expound on "sloshing"?

  12. To me it seems the weather from the "Nino's" is only half correct. Last winter (15-16) at the Admiralty inlet it was an EPIC wet and warm winter. This year (16-17) it has been dry and cold so far.

    For those of you that buy local veggies instead of those non sustainable, exotic California ones... Expect slim pickings at the beginning of the market season. The growing season is off to a slow start with the cold weather.

  13. So is the warm blob coming back to the Pacific?

  14. La Niña isn't dead - it's merely pinin' for the fjords.

  15. When do we finally hear that all of the fear, and all of the intimidation (remember the intimidation?) was wrong.

    Because the AGW crowd needs to pass carbon taxes, ban nuclear reactors and triple our electricity bills. They need us to feel real pain.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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