National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2015

Global seasonal precipitation anomalies robustly associated with El Niño and La Niña events—an OLR perspective

Chiodi, A.M., and D.E. Harrison

J. Climate, 28(15), 6133–6159, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00387.1 (2015)

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events are associated with particular seasonal weather anomalies in many regions around the planet. When the statistical links are sufficiently strong, ENSO state information can provide useful seasonal forecasts with varying lead times. However, using conventional sea surface temperature or sea level pressure indices to characterize ENSO state leads to many instances of limited forecast skill (e.g., years identified as El Niño or La Niña with weather anomalies unlike the average), even in regions where there is considerable ENSO-associated anomaly, on average. Using outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) conditions to characterize ENSO state identifies a subset of the conventional ENSO years, called OLR El Niño and OLR La Niña years herein. Treating the OLR-identified subset of years differently can both usefully strengthen the level of statistical significance in the average (composite) and also greatly reduce the year-to-year deviations in the composite precipitation anomalies. On average, over most of the planet, the non-OLR El Niño and non-OLR La Niña years have much more limited statistical utility for precipitation. The OLR El Niño and OLR La Niña indices typically identify years in time to be of use to boreal wintertime and later seasonal forecasting efforts, meaning that paying attention to tropical Pacific OLR conditions may offer more than just a diagnostic tool. Understanding better how large-scale environmental conditions during ENSO events determine OLR behavior (and deep atmospheric convection) will lead to improved seasonal precipitation forecasts for many areas.

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