posted on 30 March 2015
Written by Sig Silber
Spring is manifesting itself unevenly but relentlessly. The Tropics are spasmodic but have had essentially no impact on U.S. weather. Being early is usually better than being late, but clearly NOAA has either been a year too early with their El Nino call or just plain wrong.
This is the Regular Edition of my weekly Weather and Climate Update Report. Additional information can be found here on Page II of the Global Economic Intersection Weather and Climate Report. There will be a Special Edition Update tomorrow reflecting the NOAA April Update Release. For some of the comparisons in this report, I will be comparing the 8 - 14 Day Outlook to the NOAA preliminary April Outlook issued on March 18 when an updated Outlook for April will be released tomorrow. But today is today so I am publishing with the latest information available to me. Tomorrow I will publish a Special Edition that will update the portions of this report that are impacted by the new information to be released by NOAA tomorrow.
I thought I would repeat this animation. IT TAKES A FEW SECONDS TO RUN SO PLEASE BE PATIENT. It shows the Warm Event along the Equator dissipating or turning into a Modoki Type II i.e. cold Eastern Pacific, warm Central Pacific (mostly west of the Date Line) and warm water off the Northwest Coast of the U.S. But is the story changing? Is the Modoki cleaning up its act and going Traditional? Watch the last few frames carefully!
But first a diversion as there is no rush to get to Act III.
One reason I publish this report is because weather and climate are important. Not saying that weather has been the driver of food commodity prices but we can say that they have been on a tear at least until 2014 when some, particularly corn, moderated. You can find more details on that McKinsey study here.
I thought I would show this graphic also.
It shows that there is a range of possible outcomes for population growth from 5 billion to 13 billion in this Century with 9 billion being the peak arrived at by this study which may be a bit dated. I have my own ideas as to where that process is going but my ideas on the most reasonable projection to use are not relevant today but are with respect to the book that I am writing. The original of this graphic can be found here. The point today is simply that understanding climate is very important. Weather impacts us today but climate will have a major impact on the history of the World this Century.
Progress of the Warm Event
I thought I would recalculate the ONI again as I did last week. The little tick marks on the chart can be used instead of a ruler. When I print out this graphic one tick is about one centimeter. So you can use a ruler or just estimate the number (including fractions) of tick marks.
First I want to call your attention to the fact that we now have surface temperature and wind anomalies in the Eastern Pacific. The arrows east of 120W now point North. That does not mean we have Southerly winds (see the upper graphic which shows the actual values not the anomalies) but that the Easterlies have relaxed and now have a southerly vector in them. We certainly have more warmish water off of Ecuador and that is recent and makes the pattern a little more like a Traditional El Nino. It is kind of a bimodal distribution. To me it seems unusual. We will see how it continues to evolve. Remember that 28C is what makes the weather get interesting.
Also remember there is a lag between ocean conditions and weather impacts on land. People tend to forget that it takes time for ocean conditions to propagate over land. Weather is not digital; it is analog.
So as of Monday March 30 in the afternoon working from the March 29 TAO/TRITON report, this is what I observed.
My estimate of the Nino 3.4 ONI is now 0.95 which is a respectable value. Notice it is now warm both north of the Equator and south of the Equator which is a big change. This symmetry around the Equator has increased the accuracy of my estimation approach. I think the NOAA reading is too low but remember that NOAA is providing a weekly average and I am estimating a daily value. So if the ONI is rising or falling dramatically, the average will lag a daily reading. And of course my calculation is primitive as I have discussed before as I only consider the Equator and not the whole area between 5N and 5S which is the official definition of the ONI in Nino 3.4
The real story here however still remains Nino 4.0 where the ONI there is now reported by NOAA to be 1.1. Nino 3.4 ONI is officially reported by NOAA as 0.6 but probably is higher as I have calculated above. Nino 1 and 2 are again coming into play. Oh my gosh! 1.2? That is a big change in one week. Something is clearly happening in the Equatorial Pacific. It started as a Traditional El Nino, changed to a Modoki-ish event that did not begin in the way that a Modoki usually begins, and now appears to be morphing into more of a Traditional El Nino. But in my opinion the pattern still most closely resembles a Modoki Type II. That might change.
Here are last weeks readings and the tracking graph on the right. Notice that until now this have been mainly a Nino 4 Event.
Now this week.
Things look a lot different but one week does not make an Event. It is very interesting however.
The reason for applying labels to weather patterns is different than in the legal system. In the legal system, how you are charged might impact the sentence. Here the purpose of labels is to assist in making intelligent forecasts. It is an art not a science and different meteorological agencies have different criteria for assigning particular labels to weather patterns. In this case, IMO, none of the criteria are a perfect fit for what has transpired in 2014/2015. So we try to make the most sense out of it and different people might come to different conclusions. I report on the conclusions of others and sometimes my own as well. If you read the reports of the various meteorological agencies you will see a lot of differences of opinion and if you go into blog space you will see even more. I do not think there is an absolutely correct interpretation or incorrect interpretation. But in retrospect, we can post mortem the predictions. There is no doubt in my mind that the winter of 2014/2015 will be the subject of many articles.
This animation may provide some additional insight but it may, when you look at it, not have progressed to the current time frame. Note the dates as they flash by. They are weekly averages so you only get a more recent frame each week. It was updated today. This graphic shows the absolute temperatures not the anomalies. You can see the tendency for warm water to pool in the Western Pacific which in the extreme is La Nina Conditions. When it returns to the East you get what is called an El Nino. If the warm water is mostly near the Date Line it is a Modoki.
Notice the action north and south of the Equator.
Here is a total Pacific view which to me shows it is still a Modoki Type II. Unlike the above graphic which shows the absolute temperatures, this shows the anomalies compared to average conditions. Notice the diagonal pattern of warm temperatures which is suggestive of a Modoki Type II plus the westward extension of the warmest anomalies. As of the time I published the most recent week in this animation was centered on March 18. That probably will update tomorrow.
It is an active pattern that is for sure.
Short-term Outlook -
This will change tomorrow but today it represents the Official NOAA preliminary April and official Three-Month Outlook. The preliminary April Outlook will be updated tomorrow (but not the three-month outlook) and I will issue a Special Edition tomorrow to discuss the update.
Let us take a look at what was issued today March 30, 2015. It will auto-update every day so it will be changing day by day (and thus be up to date whenever you elect to read this report) but my comments as well as the comments of NOAA may become out of sync with the map since these comments do not auto-update.
Generally I only show the "second week" namely the 8 -14 Day Outlook. The first week (6 - 10 Day Outlook) together with much additional information on current weather patterns and near-term forecasts can be found in Part II of my report, but 8 - 14 days covers most of the 6 - 14 day period.
Here is the preliminary April Temperature Outlook issued March 19, 2015.
And here is the 8 - 14 Day Temperature Outlook issued today March 30, 2015
Other than the Northeast, the Temperature Outlook for the second week of April is inconsistent with the Monthly Outlook. The comparison may change when the April Outlook is updated tomorrow. Remember that the 8 - 14 day outlook only covers 9 days not the full month.
Here is the preliminary Precipitation Outlook for April issued on March 19.
Here is the 8 - 14 Day Precipitation Outlook issued today March 30, 2015.
The Precipitation Outlook for the second week of April is totally different than the Monthly Outlook. I think it is because of the misinterpretation by NOAA of the type of El Nino we are having. The comparison may change when NOAA issues their updated April Outlook tomorrow. Again remember that the 8 - 14 Day Outlook only covers 9 days.
At this point I think it might be useful to mention the different procedures used by NOAA to make the 6 - 14 day Outlooks and the Monthly, Seasonal and Long-Term Outlooks. The shorter the outlook, the more NOAA depends on current weather patterns and the models basically extrapolate out the current weather patterns and to a large extent rely on the analogs that I discuss below. High frequency cycles such as the MJO, PNA, OA, NAO are a factor and you can learn more about them by going to Page II of this Report. When similar weather patterns occurred in the past, what did the next 6 - 10 days look like? That is the basis for using analogs and the driver of weather forecasting models. So the short-term Outlooks do not depend very much on assumptions about medium- and low- frequency (slow changing) cycles such as ENSO and the Pacific i.e. the phase of the PDO. To a large extent NOAA ignores the AMO in their forecasting. Those medium- and low-frequency cycles might be reflected in the analogs and I try to tease them out below. I could be wrong, but I do not think they play a large role in preparing the 6 - 14 day Outlook.
The further out you go, the less the Outlook depends on current weather patterns and the more it depends on medium- and low frequency-cycles and statistical trends. So the preliminary Outlook for April may actually use a different methodology in its preparation than the updated Outlook for April to be released on March 31 because the updated Outlook for April will have 14 days of the Outlook created by a more reliable method and is less dependent on general assumptions. I do not want to make too much about this as often there is not much difference between the preliminary Outlook for the following month and the updated Outlook for the following month issued on the last day of the month. But sometimes it changes and the above explanation is part of the reason for that. It is a sensible approach.
I have no quarrel with the approach used by NOAA in preparing the 6 - 14 Day Outlooks. My problem with the longer Outlooks is simply the assumption by NOAA that we have a Traditional El Nino. I do not think we do or at least not yet. A bad assumption reduces my confidence in the Outlooks prepared based on that assumption.
Back to the 6 - 14 Day Outlook for which I have only shown here the maps for Days 8 - 14 (the 6 - 10 day maps are in Part II of my report), here are excerpts from the NOAA release today March 30, 2015.
Analogs to Current Conditions
Now let us take a detailed look at the "Analogs" which NOAA provides related to the 5 day period centered on 3 days ago and the 7 day period centered on 4 days ago. "Analog" means that the weather pattern then resembles the recent weather pattern and was used in some way to predict the 6 - 14 day Outlook.
Here are today's analogs in chronological order although this information is also available with the analog dates listed by the level of correlation. I find the chronological order easier for me to work with. There is a second set of analogs associated with the outlook but I have not been analyzing this second set of information. This first set applies to the 5 and 7 day observed pattern prior to today. The second set which I am not using relates to the forecast outlook 6 - 10 days out to similar patterns that have occurred in the past during the dates covered by the 6 - 10 Day Outlook. That may also be useful information but they put this set of analogs in the discussion with the other set available by a link so I am assuming that this set of analogs is the most meaningful.
This week there are five ENSO Neutral and three La Nina and zero El Nino analogs. NOAA provides me with ten but I discard the duplicates. Do you think that the absence of a single El Nino analog could mean something about the current weather pattern? The only really interesting analog that I noticed was the 1997 March 21. Later that year there was a powerful El Nino and a shift of sign of the PDO referred to as a Climate Shift in the Pacific. But the shift was from PDO+ to PDO-. We have been in PDO- for some time although the current readings are very high so it is not possible to switch from PDO- to PDO- because that is where we already are. Some times in the past the Climate Shift seems to have been triggered by an ENSO Event of the opposite sign. That is why I am not convinced that we are now experiencing a Climate Shift. We may be, but we may also need to have a powerful La Nina before the PDO changes to positive for a multi-decadal stretch. The Ocean Phases of the analogs this week are not very conclusive but to some extent point towards conditions C and D. Those two conditions are very different. More reason to have low confidence in the NOAA forecasts. The spread of dates of the analogs exceed a month which indicates the complexity of the onset of Spring this year.
Red is a high likelihood of drought, blue the opposite.
Back to the Current Situation:
Sometimes it is useful to take a look at the location of the Jet Stream or Jet Streams.
And sometimes the forecast is revealing. Below is the forecast out five days. It is fairly obvious that with this pattern accurate forecasting for a particular day is made more difficult.
To see it in animation, click here.
This longer animation shows how the jet stream is crossing the Pacific and when it reaches the U.S. West Coast is going every which way. One can imagine that attempting to forecast this 6 - 14 days out is quite challenging.
And below is another view which highlights the surface highs and the lows re air pressure on Day 3. The RRR remains offshore and blocking precipitation from reaching California. Also notice the split Aleutian Low which has weakened (surface air pressure not as low) since last week as Spring takes hold. The Hudson Bay Low has intruded into CONUS. If you look carefully, you can imagine how a counter clockwise Low combined with a clockwise High can funnel moisture towards say Oregon and Washington State.
And here is Day 6. Notice the low-pressure impacting the Great Lakes is forecast to continue to move south suggesting that it might play out within a week or two. There is not much left of the split Winter Aleutian Low. Thus the driver for precipitation entering CONUS via Oregon and Washington State is not strong.
More El Niño Discussion
The view of El Nino as a 2014/2015 event appears to be morphing into a view that it is a 2015/2016 event. But all predictions about El Nino for next winter must be tempered by what is called the Spring Prediction Barrier (SPB). Nevertheless, an El Nino this coming winter is a real possibility.
It is useful to understand where ENSO is measured.
Of most interest to NOAA is 120 W to 170 W labeled Nino 3.4 as that is where the ONI Index most often used in the U.S. for defining ENSO Events is measured. More information can be found here. In Asia they tend to pay more attention to Nino 3
And now the low-level wind anomalies.
This is not much change from last week. I believe it is current as of March 27 which is not bad but today is March 30. Notice the very reddish-brown area between 160E and the Date Line which three weeks ago extended but with less intensity all the way over to 140E. Now we have light brown from 150E all the way to the coast of South America. That indicates weaker Easterlies but with a slightly different pattern than week. The big question now is will this continue? Notice west of 150E the situation is reversed.
The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) this week has been all over the place after two weeks of very negative readings. Today's reading of -8.5 is just over (more negative than) the threshold of what is considered to be an El Nino reading. The SOI fluctuates based on local weather conditions in Tahiti and Darwin Australia which is why the 30 and 90 day averages are more significant than the daily values. The 30 day average of -10.7 is curiously the same as last week and is certainly consistent with El Nino conditions (a 30 day average of -8.0 or more negative (using the standard SOI Index) is considered to be consistent with El Nino conditions). The 90 day average is currently -6.8 which is not yet sufficiently negative to be considered consistent with El Nino conditions. You can always find the updated daily values and the 30 and 90 day averages here.
24 March 2015 +3.7
The Kelvin Wave graphic is very interesting this week. It is really the Upper Ocean Heat Anomaly.
This was a big surprise. The Kelvin wave which appeared to be stalled last week is clearly progressing eastward. Remember the bottom of the graphic is the current readings and as you look up you see basically day by day the historical progression of these waves. When the pattern started to deviate from 45 degrees and became more vertical last week, to me that signified a decreasing impact of the Kelvin Wave. But that changed. But also now it does appear that we see a potential upwelling phase beginning in the far western Pacific that intense blue patch. This Kelvin wave has been more intense than I thought it would be and we see this reflected in the Nino readings. Credit the SOI.
Since we looked at the Upper Ocean Anomalies let's also look at the Surface Anomalies.
You can see the change from last week but it is not dramatic. It still looks like a Central Pacific or Date Line Warm Event not a Traditional/Canonical El Nino. But it clearly is different.
And finally the latest model results released by NOAA on March 30, 2015.
There are two ways to look at this graphic assuming the projections are correct. One way is that we are in an El Nino that started in Aug-Sept-Oct of 2014 and may continue through the summer and possibly into next winter. Another way is that we had a near or marginal El Nino Modoki Type II starting in Aug-Sept-Oct 2014 which has just ended and we may be starting a Traditional El Nino Event. I think the latter is a more useful approach. I say that because the weather this past winter was consistent with there not having been a Traditional El Nino Event this past winter. What the future holds remains to be seen.
The continued tendency for models to show a strengthening of this El Nino is reasonable but questionable given the reality of what is called the Spring Prediction Barrier (SPB). If I was preparing that graphic. I would definitely have a footnote on that to avoid misleading the reader. The upper left mini-graphic which is hard to see in this larger graphic without using the zoom feature available in most brousers, forecasts Traditional El Nino conditions for April - May - June. We will see.
Australia has their own model which updates every two weeks.
Notice the criteria for achieving El Nino or La Nina status are different than that used by most others. And curiously, the view from Australia with respect to the development of an El Nino this year has until now been pretty much more subdued than the view from the U.S. That has now changed.
Their updated comments were just released and a bit earlier than I had expect.
New NOAA Tool
I do not know when this was made available but I just noticed it which you can click on here. They say it shows the impact of ENSO but really it is set up to show the impact of El Nino with the instructions to reverse the sign for the impact of La Nina which is an approximation but is probably reasonable. The major problem I have with this is that the regression analysis did not take into account the strength of the ENSO event or the type of event i.e. for El Nino: Traditional, Modoki Type I, Modoli Type II. So it averages all El Nino events together. It is a clever graphic however as you can indicate which months you are interested in.
Pulling it All Together.
There has been a short-term strengthening of this Warm Event at the wrong time of the year. It is looking a bit more like a Traditional El Nino. NOAA expresses a point of view that I can neither confirm nor contradict (I have not done the research to do either) that if this Warm Event extends through the summer, the odds of an El Nino next winter are very good. It does not seem unreasonable to me but I do not have the data to assess it. For the Spring and Fall it should have minimal impact. Because right now we still have more of a Modoki-ish pattern than a Traditional Pattern I have very little confidence in the NOAA Three-Month precipitation Outlook. I expect them to possibly begin walking back from their forecasts tomorrow with the release of the updated April Outlook and I will publish a Special Update Edition on that information rather than having everyone wait for the following Monday.
The PDO is showing very high readings which could signify the beginning of a climate shift in the Pacific which would be very significant for World weather for two or three decades. It will take three years before we know if that has occurred. At this point I am not at all convinced that this is the time that the flipping will occur but it might or it might take a strong La Nina to signal that change. I am inclined to think the latter but we will see. I am highly confident that the PDO will become consistently positive either now or within five years. I am starting to prepare a report on the economic impacts and investment opportunities that might follow such a Climate Shift.
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