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Weather Wise - Weather Forecast

published: May 6th 2016
by: Brian Bledsoe

The death of El Niño and birth of La Niña 

If you read the Southern Livestock Standard, the title of this month’s article is not breaking news. In fact, I’ve been talking about this transition for several months. I wanted to provide an update for those that are interested.  Let's look at the recent sea surface temperature anomaly changes over the tropical Pacific Ocean:

Late February:

We were still dealing with a pretty strong El Niño in late February.  Very warm water spanned all of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) regions in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.  However, we were starting to see some changes take place that certainly indicated we were well past the peak of this El Niño.  The image below clearly shows how rapidly the transition has occurred and that we are just getting started. . .

You can see the cooler than normal water starting off the western tip of South America.  Beneath the surface of the ocean, there is also water that ranges from 1 to 5 degrees C cooler than normal.  That is the “fuel” that will continue the transition into La Niña.  While we aren’t in La Niña status yet, we likely will be before the summer is done.  

The above graphic shows many different computer models and their ENSO region sea surface temperature anomaly forecast for the next several months.  The majority of the models continue to steam into La Niña territory as early as late summer.  Some of them take us to moderate to strong La Niña territory by the end of the year.

So, when was the last La Niña? Here is a great graphic courtesy of Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and Jan Null:

The graphic shows the El Niño peaks and the La Niña valleys since 1950. The last two moderate to strong La Niña events happened in 2007-08 and 2010-11. However, we never really snapped out of the influence of the 2010-11 La Niña episode until early 2014 when the Pacific Ocean started to warm up. We all know that the period of time from 2010 to 2014 was associated with periods of extreme drought in the Southern Plains.  We had a brief break in late 2011 and early 2012, but it was very short lived.

I am by no means suggesting that a drought the magnitude of 2011 will happen again when this La Niña takes hold.  However, the odds of much drier than normal conditions go up exponentially when a La Niña is occurring.  

I am sure you have seen the graphic above many times, and I have showed it quite a few times here in my Weather Wise articles.  I talked a lot about this at the 2015 Beef Cattle Short Course last August.  Confidence is high in a La Niña event taking hold by the end of 2016.  Please be smart and plan accordingly.

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