it’s November, and the CPC/IRI ENSO forecast is declaring the presence of La Niña conditions. There’s about a 65-75% chance that La Niña conditions will continue at least through the winter. As we head into our fifth “double dip” La Niña (an unofficial term for when neutral conditions briefly prevail in between La Niña winters) in the historical record, let’s dig into what we talk about when we talk about La Niña.
A quick flashback
If you recall, last month there were several signs of the presence of La Niña conditions. East-central tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures were cooler than the long-term average, accompanied by signs of a La Niña-like atmospheric response (more clouds and rain over Indonesia, less over the central Pacific).
Sea surface temperatures in the Niño3.4 region during September came in at about 0.5°C cooler than the long-term average, the first step in our La Niña conditions decision tree. However, the sea surface temperature was showing some volatility, and we just weren’t confident enough in the second step of the flowchart—that the cooler sea surface would persist for several seasons—to be sure that La Niña’s seasonal pattern had locked in.
What’s different this month?
In October, despite an active Madden-Julian Oscillation moving through the western Pacific (more on that in a minute), La Niña conditions dominated. Stepping through our flowchart, the sea surface temperature in the Niño3.4 region again averaged about 0.5°C cooler than average (check). Most of the computer models forecast that it will remain in weak La Niña territory (between 0.5°C and 1.0°C below average) through the spring (check).
Another factor bolstering forecasters’ confidence that La Niña will remain in place through the fall and winter 2017/18 is the substantial quantity of cooler-than-average waters below the tropical ocean surface. This will provide a source of cooler waters to the surface over the next few months.
Finally, the signs of an atmospheric response I described above continued to be present during October (check). In addition to the clouds and rain pattern, the upper-level winds were stronger than average, another sign of a strengthened Walker Circulation. Also, the Southern Oscillation Index was positive, also indicating a stronger-than-average Walker Circulation. Add it all together, and you get… La Niña!