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El Nino-Southern Oscillation Updates

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Date: February 18, 2020

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) remains neutral. Atmospheric and oceanic indicators including the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), cloudiness near the Date Line, and sea surface and sub-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific are at neutral ENSO levels. However, trade winds, another ENSO indicator, are currently weaker than usual near the Date Line. This is a result of warmer waters in that area and tropical cyclone activity in the region. Additionally, some surface waters in the tropics, near and to the west of the Date Line, are warmer than average, potentially drawing some moisture away from Australia. This pattern in the western Pacific is offset by anomalously warm sea surface temperatures around northern Australia, which tend to increase rainfall.

International climate models surveyed by the Bureau suggest that ENSO is likely to stay neutral until at least the end of the southern hemisphere autumn, meaning it will have limited influence on Australian and global climate in the coming months.

The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) remains neutral. The IOD typically has little influence on Australian climate from December to April.

The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) is also currently neutral and is forecast to remain neutral for the next three weeks. The SAM has less impact upon Australian rainfall in autumn.


Most international climate models indicate central tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures in the NINO3.4 region will remain at ENSO-neutral levels until at least the start of the southern hemisphere winter. One of the eight models exceeds the La Niña threshold during July.

ENSO events, that is either El Niño or La Niña, typically begin to develop during autumn, before strengthening in winter/spring. The Bureau will continue to closely monitor the potential for either to develop this year.

NOAA National Weather Service / Climate Prediction Center

Date: February 18, 2020

  • ENSO-neutral conditions are present.
  • Equatorial sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are near-to-above average across the Pacific Ocean. 
  • The tropical atmospheric circulation is generally consistent with ENSO-neutral. 
  • ENSO-neutral is favored through Northern Hemisphere spring 2020 (~60% chance), continuing through summer 2020 (~50% chance).

International Research Institute for Climate and Society

Date: February 13, 2019

SSTs in the east-central Pacific were near the borderline of weak El Niño levels during early February. Patterns in atmospheric variables are split between neutral and weak El Niño conditions. Most model forecasts favor near-borderline El Niño SST conditions during late winter, returning to ENSO-neutral by spring and beyond. The official CPC/IRI outlook is consistent with these model forecasts, stating that overall conditions are neutral.

World Meteorological Organization

Date: November, 2019

Sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific have been neutral with respect to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (signifying that neither El Niño nor La Niña have prevailed) since July 2019. During October and early November, sea surface temperatures warmed to near El Niño levels, but most tropical Pacific atmospheric indicators have remained neutral. WMO Global Producing Centres of Long-range Forecasts (GPCs-LRF) indicate that sea surface temperatures are most likely to return to near-average levels after November and remain at ENSO-neutral levels into the first half of 2020. Given current conditions and model outlooks, the chance of ENSO-neutral conditions prevailing during the period December 2019 through February 2020 is estimated at about 65%, while the chances for El Niño and La Niña are 30% and 5%, respectively. Considering the increased uncertainty in long-range forecasts during the coming seasons, National Meteorological and Hydrological Services will continue to closely monitor changes in the state of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) over the coming months.

In summary:

  • Since July 2019, the tropical Pacific has been in an ENSO-neutral state. During October and early November, a temporary warming of the waters occurred. This is being attributed to sub-seasonal variability and not the onset of an El Niño. 
  • Model predictions and expert opinion indicate a 65% chance of ENSO-neutral conditions continuing during December-February 2019-20, while the probability for El Niño is near 30%. For the March-May 2020 season, the chance for ENSO-neutral is 60%, El Niño is 25% and La Niña is 15%.
  • Sea surface temperature anomalies in the east-central Pacific Ocean are most likely to be in the range from 0.1 degrees Celsius below average to 0.5 degrees Celsius above average during December-February 2019-20.

The state of ENSO will continue to be carefully monitored. More detailed interpretations of regional climate variability will be generated routinely by the climate forecasting community over the coming months and will be made available through National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.


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