National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2015

Equatorial Pacific easterly wind surges and the onset of La Niña events

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

J. Climate, 28(2), 776–792, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00227.1 (2015)

The processes responsible for the onset of La Niña events have not received the same attention as those responsible for the onset of El Niño events, for which westerly wind events (WWEs) in the tropical Pacific have been identified as important contributors. Results here show that synoptic-scale surface easterly wind surges (EWSs) play an important role in the onset of La Niña events, akin to the role of WWEs in the onset of El Niño events. It is found that EWSs are a substantial component of zonal wind stress variance along the equatorial Pacific. Using reanalysis wind stress fields, validated against buoy measurements, 340 EWS events are identified between 1986 and 2012. Their distributions in space, time, and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) state are described. About 150 EWSs occur during ENSO-neutral conditions, during the months associated with La Niña initiation and growth (April–December). Composites of changes in sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) following these ~150 events show statistically significant cooling (0.1°–0.4°C) along the oceanic waveguide that persists for 2–3 months following the EWSs. Experiments with EWS forcing of an ocean general circulation model show SSTA patterns like those in the observations. It is suggested that EWSs play an important role in the onset of La Niña waveguide surface cooling and deserve additional study.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |