Some El Niño That Turned Out to Be

map of ENSO's collapse

With El Niño fleeing the equatorial Pacific over the last month, and with La Niña apparently seizing the opportunity like Rush Limbaugh seeing Al Gore’s electric bill, it’s worth reflecting for a moment on the El Niño that was. From today’s Drought Monitor:

Los Angeles has seen their driest season to date on record, with cumulative rainfall of 2.42 inches (21 percent of normal) since July 1. The Sierra did see additional snowfall early in the week, but snow water content remained less than 60 percent of normal at many locations.


  1. I recall some Australian (Or was it NZ?) expert on El Nino’s saying this one would be very small, back in January.
    Looks like he was right.
    The question is, what drives El Ninos? Obviously the sun is important, but what governs how often they happen?

    (Meanwhile here in Scotland we have hardly had a winter and spring is here 2 weeks early)

  2. Talked last week with a drought forecaster who made the interesting point that if you looked at “composite” forecasts (as they do at NOAA’s drought center) you would be “nervous” about the wet winter forecast from the start, as he was. Perhaps in the future (esp in the Southwest) we will need to forecast with a broader set of metrics, including soil moisture levels.

  3. Eli –

    With all due respect, no. The rapid collapse of this El Nino caught the forecast community by surprise. The mid-December CPC expert assessment forecast continued El Nino conditions through May. That’s what the graph you included on your blog shows as well.

    Kit –

    I’d like to know more. Have you written about this?

  4. I’m trying to write about this! It’s part of a story I’m trying to pull together, with difficulty, on worst-case scenarios for drought in the Southwest. The good news is that Douglas Lecomte at the NWS’s Drought Center seems quite willing to help even smaller-brained journalism folk. Give him a call.

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