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NW Fishletter #309, October 19, 2012

[6] El Niño Possibility Dims As Tropical Pacific Grows Cooler

The tropical Pacific is continuing to cool, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported Oct. 9, in its latest ENSO update, continuing "its retreat from El Niño thresholds for the second consecutive fortnight." The Bureau said ocean temperatures stayed within neutral ranges, neither El Niño nor La Niña.

"Climate models surveyed by the Bureau of Meteorology have increased their chances of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean remaining at neutral levels, though still warmer than average, for the remainder of 2012," said the Aussies.

The Bureau reported that sea-surface temperature anomalies in the central and eastern tropical Pacific had cooled further over the past two weeks. "While the distribution of warm anomalies remains similar to last fortnight, the pattern is breaking down and no longer shows the organized tongue of warm anomalies along the central equatorial Pacific characteristic of an El Niño."

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center said Oct. 15 that borderline ENSO neutral/ weak El Niño conditions are expected to continue in the Northern hemisphere this winter, "possibly strengthening over the next few months."

In an Oct. 18 statement, NOAA described its current uncertainty. "This is one of the most challenging outlooks we've produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the tropical Pacific."

The agency's winter forecast (December-February) says the odds still favor:

  • Warmer-than-average temperatures in much of Texas, northward through the Central and Northern Plains and westward across the Southwest, the Northern Rockies, and eastern Washington, Oregon and California, as well as the northern two-thirds of Alaska.
  • Cooler-than-average temperatures in Hawaii and in most of Florida, excluding the panhandle.
  • Drier-than-average conditions in Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, including Idaho, western Montana, and portions of Wyoming, Utah and most of Nevada.
  • Drier-than-average conditions in the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and northern Missouri and eastern parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and western Illinois.
  • Wetter-than-average conditions across the Gulf Coast states from the northern half of Florida to eastern Texas.

Meanwhile, the negative PDO conditions in the Northwest are getting stronger, according to the latest PDO index update from University of Washington atmospheric science researcher Nate Mantua. The PDO index for September was -2.21, compared to -1.91 for August, which means that overall cooler, moist conditions are likely to persist. The index has been in negative territory since June 2010, but hasn't been this strongly negative since last November. -B. R.

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