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HOME > Expert Assessments > ENSO Diagnostic Discussion
issued by
December 4, 2001

Most oceanic and atmospheric indices reflect a continuation of ENSO-neutral conditions. However, there are indications of a slow evolution towards a warm episode. Since late June 2001 sea surface temperatures (SSTs) have become anomalously warm in the central equatorial Pacific, with anomalies near 1°C just to the west of the date line (Fig. 1). During the same period, subsurface temperature anomalies have remained positive in the central equatorial Pacific between 160°E and 120°W (Fig. 2), indicating a deeper-than-normal thermocline in that region. Similar patterns have been observed immediately prior to the onset of previous warm episodes.

In recent months, many tropical Pacific atmospheric and oceanic variables have been strongly modulated by intraseasonal (30-60 day) fluctuations, associated with the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO). Low-level wind fluctuations over the central and western tropical Pacific have been consistent with this activity (Fig. 3). In the past, the convectively active phase of the MJO has been instrumental in producing low-level westerly wind bursts that are linked to subsequent oceanic warming in the eastern equatorial Pacific during the onset phase of warm episodes, especially during the transition seasons (March-May and September-November). A significant westerly wind burst occurred over the western equatorial Pacific during mid-October. November featured stronger-than-normal easterlies in this region during the first three weeks, followed by westerly anomalies during the last week of the month.

The majority of the latest statistical and coupled model predictions indicate near-normal conditions in the equatorial Pacific during the next three to six months. However, all of these prediction techniques have difficulty in making skillful forecasts during ENSO transitions. Considering the time of year, and the observed oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns, it seems most likely that a gradual evolution to warm episode conditions will continue in the tropical Pacific over the next several months.

Weekly updates for SST, 850-hPa wind, OLR and the equatorial subsurface temperature structure are available on the Climate Prediction Center homepage at: (Weekly Update).  Forecasts for the evolution of El Niņo/La Niņa are updated monthly in CPC's Climate Diagnostics Bulletin Forecast Forum. To receive an e-mail notification when updated ENSO Diagnostic Discussions are released please send your e-mail address to:

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Page Author: Climate Prediction Center Internet Team
Page last modified: December 4, 2001
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