Westerly wind bursts help predict the type and severity of El Nino

By on April 27, 2015

Tracking hurricane seasons after El Nino "Modoki" winters between 1990 and 2005. (Credit: NOAA)

Including bursts of Pacific westerly winds could improve the accuracy of El Nino predictive models, according to a recent press release from the University of Maryland. Accounting for the winds could also help forecast the severity and type of upcoming El Nino events.

According to researchers, these westerly wind bursts are not weather, nor are they climate: they are a recurring phenomenon somewhere in the middle. When they weren’t included in El Nino modeling efforts, the model predicted a severe El Nino for 2014, one as devastating as the El Nino in 1997-1998. A severe 2014 event did not occur. The only difference between the El Nino events in 1997 and 2014 was that the earlier event included significant westerly wind bursts.

Scientists used 50 years of tropical Pacific sea surface temperature data and westerly wind burst data to arrive at their corrected model of El Nino events. The researchers also identified three types of El Nino events: a strong event centered near the South American Coast, a weak event occurring near the dateline, and moderate warming near the central-eastern equatorial Pacific. The original model incorrectly predicted only one type of El Nino.

Top image: Tracking hurricane seasons after El Nino “Modoki” winters between 1990 and 2005. (Credit: NOAA)

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