March 29, 2018

La Nina is Doomed

It has become increasingly clear that our current La Nina is doomed and that next winter we will probably be in a Neutral or "La Nada" situation.  Maybe even a weak El Nino.

As you will remember, La Ninas are associated with cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.  Here are the temperatures for the Nina 3.4 area that meteorologists love to use as a key marker of La Nina/El Nino activity. Blue indicates colder than normal.   Still in a La Nina.

La Nina's are generally associated with high pressure out in the eastern Pacific and cool/wet conditions over the Northwest, particularly after the new year. And we have had that situation in spades the last month.

Here are the anomalies (differences from normal) for the heights (like pressure) at 500 hPa (around 18,000 ft) for the past month.  A trough over us (blue colors) and a ridge (red colors) south of the Aleutians.  This pattern is why we have had so much snow the last month or so, since the cool, wet trough is favorable for mountain snows in our area.

But things are changing.  The cold water in the Pacific is being eroded from below as warmer water moves in.  This figure shows the heat anomaly (difference from normal) under the surface at the equator.  It is now warmer than normal beneath the surface.  The grim reaper for La Ninas is preparing the final end.

Various groups run prediction models for La Nina and El Nino, using both full physics and statistical approaches.  As shown in the following figure, nearly all the models show a weakening of La Nina (with temperatures going form below normal to near normal...or even above normal).  At the very least that implies Neutral (or normal conditions).  And maybe even a weak El Nino for next winter

The Climate Prediction Center even gives probabilities for the upcoming months.
They suggest we will rapidly go into Neutral territory by late spring and stay there into early next winter, with a nearly equal chance of being in a weak El Nino.
Why do we care about this?   A Neutral winter can be exciting here in the Northwest, with the strongest storms (floods, winds, snow) preferring Neutral conditions.  But before we get too excited, let's wait until July when our ability to predict the state of the tropical Pacific next winter will be far more skillful.


Announcement:  The Northwest Weather Workshop is on April 27-28

The NW Weather Workshop is the big annual meeting for those interested in Northwest meteorology.  This year we will have a major session on the meteorology of NW wildfires and others on other aspects of our regional weather.  The gathering takes place at the NOAA facility in Seattle.  To view the agenda and to register, go to the meeting website.  The workshop is open to everyone, but registration is required.


  1. Cliff how about a post on historical weather prediction accuracy over the last say 100 years. How much better have we gotten at it and why? Also what will it take to make the next big gains in prediction accuracy that sort of thing?

  2. Spring is the toughest time of year around here. You desperately want the cold, wet winter to end.. but it doesn't. UGGG..

  3. ENSO Neutral winters during low solar tend to produce more blocking in the Gulf of Alaska which usually equates to more lowland snow and cooler temps for us here the PNW. We'll see.... At any rate, the onset of the Solar Minimum will play a factor in the weather over the next decade.

  4. There is no such thing as “normal” in climate and weather. It’s a massive chaotic system. It would be ridiculous to expect blue skies on some random day this April based on sun on the same day in 2017, and yet there is this Illusion of Control and certainty about so many things climate and weather. It’s a human thing to think we can control or predict everything. But nope.

  5. Truly, just observe what happens this summer. The weather continues around the globe to get colder. Just look at the evidence. Don't expect the summer to be mega warm for a super long time folks. Fall will come early. Mother nature is amazing. Changes are inevitable.

  6. @J Would love to look at the evidence you mention that shows “The weather continues around the globe to get colder”. Can you post some sources for this evidence?

  7. Justin - just so. The lack of attention in the MSM and most of the scientific community regarding the Maunder Minimum effect is astonishing. It's almost as if their contention is that the sun has no effect on the earth's climate.

  8. J - Any data to back up the globe getting colder?

    Jeff's entire "it can't be predicted" is ridiculous. Weather prediction is a LOT better than it was when I was a kid. It doesn't mean there aren't surprises or busts, but the general accuracy has improved. You can see that in everything from fewer convergence zone surprises to more accurate hurricane tracks on the East and Gulf coasts.

    Emotional posts to be sure, but not rooted in data or science, which have something to do with professional meteorology and climate studies.

  9. Agreed on the Carbon Tax, something essential if for no other reason, society will collectively admit that action is required unless they are happy to consign their children and grand children to ecological instability all to protect their current entitlements ( google "Loss Aversion" to grasp the full irrationality involved)

    What I do want to dispute is the repeated and often triumphant finger pointing of "hypocrisy" in such examples as protestors floating in kayaks made of petrochemical products, complainers complaining similarly on a computer or those hated elites flying to lavish climate conferences in jet planes. None of these are examples of hypocrisy. Exactly how do you expect anyone to get anywhere for the purpose of effecting political change? Swim? No one expects everything to change immediately and for the most part I suggest it wise for the topic to restrict talk of transition to topics that can be changed, such as energy, not social class. If all goes well, I sincerely doubt that society will be no less reliant on "elites" then as we are now or have been for centuries.

    They are examples of complexity, not hypocrisy. Climate change is perhaps the single most complex problem humanity faces - the rather sudden occurrence of fact indicating that the entire energy structure responsible for our entire wealth of existence is also the essential ingredient for our increasingly probable demise. They ( those hated elites) even had to invent a new term (the Super wicked Problem) to adequately describe it.

    At least those protesters and Hollywood celebrities and parasitic scientists are doing something to advocate for change, which cannot be achieved through individual action simply because we all compete in an energy environment that has not changed to accommodate reasonable individual risk taking. The scale of the Super Wicked Problem intrinsically requires systemic global scale change that explicitly requires public policy to steer change..... such as the Carbon Tax.

    Of course the other terribly important factor is human comprehension of the problem which is not at all only technical. In fact it is mostly psychological. In both cases the majority simply do not have the skills technically or psychologically to navigate the problem, thus our scorn for the "elites" at a point in time where they are needed more than ever.

    You don't believe me? Well keep using your Strawman argument of hypocrisy then, instead of showing the level of skill and humility that the problem requires - an acceptance and articulation of what it is - ferocious complexity which at least some of us can deal with rather than ignore

  10. Bruce Kay - like you I have been surprised and a bit confused by those who think there is something hypocritical in speaking out or acting against our society's dependence on fossil fuel while having to depend on fossil fuel in order to get their message across.

    When talking to people who pose that argument I ask them if they believe those who spoke out against the legalized slavery in our country while wearing cotton clothing should be considered hypocritical or moral.


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

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