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Using El Niño and La Niña to Predict Climate

El Niño and La Niña conditions El Niño and La Niña conditions

El Niño and La Niña conditions

Research conducted over recent decades has shown the important role played by interactions between the atmosphere and ocean in the tropical belt of the Pacific Ocean in altering global weather and climate patterns. During El Niño events, for example, sea temperatures at the surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become substantially higher than normal. In contrast, during La Niña events, the sea surface temperatures in these regions become lower than normal. These temperature changes are strongly linked to major climate fluctuations around the globe and, once initiated, such events can last for 12 months or more. The strong El Niño event of 1997-1998 was followed by a prolonged La Niña phase that extended from mid-1998 to early 2001. Both of these events are clearly seen in the graph above.  El Niño/La Niña events change the likelihood of particular climate patterns around the globe, but the outcomes of each event are never exactly the same. Furthermore, while there is generally a relationship between the global impacts of an El Niño/La Niña event and its intensity, there is always potential for an event to generate serious impacts in some regions irrespective of its intensity. For these reasons, monitoring and forecasting the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon is very important for forecasting the global climate as a whole.

Forecasting and Monitoring the El Niño/La Niña Phenomenon

The forecasting of Pacific Ocean developments is undertaken in a number of ways. Complex dynamical models project the evolution of the tropical Pacific Ocean from its currently observed state. Statistical forecast models can also capture some of the precursors of such developments. Expert analysis of the current situation adds further value, especially in interpreting the implications of the evolving situation below the ocean surface. All forecast methods try to incorporate the effects of ocean-atmosphere interactions within the climate system.

The meteorological and oceanographic data that allow El Niño and La Niña episodes to be monitored and forecast are drawn from national and international observing systems. The exchange and processing of the data are carried out under programmes coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization.

WMO El Niño/La Niña Update

The WMO El Niño/La Niña Update is prepared on a quasi-regular basis (approximately once every three months) through a collaborative effort between WMO and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) as a contribution to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). It is based on contributions from the leading centres around the world dealing with this phenomenon. An archive of these updates are available.

[More in depth information] The WMO’s Global Ocean Observation System has more information about the ENSO and its effects on global weather.

[More in depth information] on the ENSO can be found in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

[Further information] on La Niña can be found in the WMO’s Factsheet on La Nina and its affect on Global Climate



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