Synopsis: A strong El Niño is expected to gradually weaken through spring 2016, and to transition to ENSO-neutral during late spring or early summer.
A strong El Niño continued during December, with well above-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1). All weekly Niño indices decreased slightly from the previous month (Fig. 2). The subsurface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific, while still well above average, weakened (Fig. 3) due to an upwelling equatorial oceanic Kelvin wave (Fig. 4). Significant low-level westerly wind anomalies and upper-level easterly wind anomalies continued over much of the tropical Pacific. During the last week, another westerly wind burst occurred in the east-central Pacific. The traditional and equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values remained strongly negative. Also, convection remained strong over the central and east-central tropical Pacific, and suppressed over Indonesia (Fig. 5). Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic anomalies reflect the continuation of a strong El Niño episode.
Most models indicate that a strong El Niño will weaken with a transition to ENSO-neutral during the late spring or early summer (Fig. 6). The forecasters are in agreement with the model consensus, though the exact timing of the transition is difficult to predict. A strong El Niño is expected to gradually weaken through spring 2016, and to transition to ENSO-neutral during late spring or early summer (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period).
El Niño has already produced significant global impacts and is expected to affect temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States during the upcoming months (the 3-month seasonal outlook will be updated on Thursday January 21st). The seasonal outlooks for January - March indicate an increased likelihood of above-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and below-median precipitation over the northern tier of the United States. Above-average temperatures are favored in the West and northern half of the country with below-average temperatures favored in the southern Plains and along the Gulf Coast.
This discussion is a consolidated effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA's National
Weather Service, and their funded institutions. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly on the Climate Prediction Center web site
(El Niño/La Niña Current Conditions and Expert Discussions). Forecasts
are also updated monthly in the Forecast Forum of CPC's Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. Additional perspectives and
analysis are also available in an ENSO blog. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion is scheduled for 11 February 2016
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