Predict weather from ENSO?

(Someone asked me to set down my thoughts about this.)

“Droughts and flooding rains” *

The climates of places in Australia cycle from hot, arid and dry, to cold, humid and wet every couple of years. (Dorothea Mackellar said she loved a sunburnt country “of droughts and flooding rains”*) This is a kind of quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO).  For more about the QBO, see this post, and the links in it. The cycles get weaker and stronger, more droughty or more rainy, and sometimes take about one year, sometimes three or more.

The climate of the Pacific Ocean has similar cycles, called the Southern Oscillation, discovered by Gilbert Walker a century ago. The pressure difference between Darwin and Tahiti oscillates in a way that reflects other widespread changes in climate. This is now called the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and it is monitored by sea-surface temperature around Nauru in the Pacific Ocean, called NINO3.4. Now that we have up-to-date data on NINO3.4, the public has been led to believe that the data can be used to forecast Australian weather. It really can’t.

Problem No.1: Weather varies from place to place.

Every district in Australia has different weather, so one size does not fit all. Wasyl Drosdowsky made a map defining the regions that have consistent relationships to ENSO and other indices, but nobody has taken up the idea. (I would if I was boss of the Bureau of Meteorology!) Drosdowsky’s regions are rather similar to the States, but Victoria and the southern half of South Australia form a single region.

Problem No.2: Forecast is too late.

The ENSO cycle does not predict a cycle in any part of Australia because it happens at about the same time, and it takes a month or more to collate the data. Weather prediction from ENSO is always late. Consequently, there is a business to predict ENSO some months ahead. These predictions are very unreliable. Then the predictions of ENSO values are used to predict Australian weather, with vague statements of which regions will be affected.

To make matters worse, my Manilla data from 1999 shows that my weather happens in advance of the ENSO changes. I compared the ENSO log from 1999 to 2011 with smoothed daily maximum temperature anomaly, smoothed monthly rainfall anomaly, and smoothed early morning dew point anomaly. If droughts and deluges happen before peaks and troughs of ENSO at other places in Australia, this makes prediction from ENSO even less likely to work.

[Note added 14/07/2015. Updated graphs comparing the ENSO log from 1999 to 2014 with smoothed daily maximum temperature anomaly and smoothed monthly rainfall anomaly at Manilla are in this post. Manilla’s climate has not related very well to ENSO since mid-2011.]


* By arrangement with the Licensor, The Dorothea Mackellar Estate, c/- Curtis Brown (Aust) Pty Ltd.


Data are cheap; information is expensive!


Originally posted on 12/5/2013 to a thread “ENSO Discussion 2013” on a “weatherzone forum.

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