Modiki El Niños and Atlantic hurricane activity

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:48 PM GMT on July 08, 2009

It's an El Niño year, which typically means that Atlantic hurricane activity will be reduced. But not all El Niño events are created equal when it comes to their impact on Atlantic hurricane activity. Over the past 150 years, hurricane damage has averaged $800 million/year in El Niño years and double that during La Niña years. The abnormal warming of the equatorial Eastern Pacific ocean waters in most El Niño events creates an atmospheric circulation pattern that brings strong upper-level winds over the Atlantic, creating high wind shear conditions unfavorable for hurricanes. Yet some El Niño years, like 2004, don't fit this pattern. Residents of Florida and the Gulf Coast will not soon forget the four major hurricanes that pounded them in 2004--Ivan, Frances, Jeanne, and Charley. Overall, the 15 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 6 intense hurricanes of the hyperactive hurricane season of 2004 killed over 3000 people--mostly in Haiti, thanks to Hurricane Jeanne--and did $40 billion in damage.

A new paper published in Science last Friday attempts to explain why some El Niño years see high Atlantic hurricane activity. "Impact of Shifting Patterns of Pacific Ocean Warming on North Atlantic Tropical Cyclones", by Georgia Tech researchers Hye-Mi Kim, Peter Webster, and Judith Curry, theorizes that Atlantic hurricane activity is sensitive to exactly where in the Pacific Ocean El Niño warming occurs. If the warming occurs primarily in the Eastern Pacific, near the coast of South America, the resulting atmospheric circulation pattern creates very high wind shear over the tropical Atlantic, resulting in fewer hurricanes. This pattern, called the Eastern Pacific Warming (EPW) pattern, occurred most recently during the El Niño years of 1997, 1987, and 1982 (Figure 1). In contrast, more warming occurred in the Central Pacific during the El Niño years of 2004, 2002, 1994, and 1991. The scientists showed that these Central Pacific Warming (CPW) years had lower wind shear over the Atlantic, and thus featured higher hurricane activity than is typical for an El Niño year. One of the paper's authors, Professor Peter J. Webster, said the variant Central Pacific Warming (CPW) El Niño pattern was discovered in the 1980s by Japanese and Korean researchers, who dubbed it modiki El Niño. Modiki is the Japanese word for "similar, but different".


Figure 1. Difference of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) from average during the peak of hurricane season, August-September-October, for seven years that had El Niño events (except for 2009, when the SST anomaly for July 1 - 3 is plotted). On the left side are years when the El Niño warming primarily occurred in the Eastern Pacific (EPW years). On the right are years when the warming primarily occurred in the Central Pacific (CPW years). Shown on the top of each plot is the number of named storms (NS), hurricanes (H), and intense hurricanes (IH) that occurred in the Atlantic each year. Atlantic hurricane activity tends to be more prevalent in CPW years than EPW years. An average hurricane season has 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

What, then, can we expect the current developing El Niño event to do to 2009 hurricane activity? Kim et al. note that in recent decades, the incidence of modiki CPW El Niño years has been increasing, relative to EPW years. However, the preliminary pattern of SST anomalies in the Pacific observed so far in July (lower left image in Figure 1) shows an EPW pattern--more warming in the Eastern Pacific than the Central Pacific. If Kim et al.'s theory holds true, this EPW pattern should lead to an Atlantic hurricane season with activity lower than the average 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes. There is still a possibility that the observed warming pattern could shift to the Central Pacific during the peak portion of hurricane season, however. We are still in the early stages of this El Niño, and it is unclear how it will evolve.

Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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Quoting extreme236:


New york stock exchange site was hit earlier today.


Good...shut it down...it's just depressing, anyway...
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
456...thank you for not saying "Carolinas"
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Quoting Ossqss:
This could be why some of the frequently visited sites have had some issues lately.

Cyber Attack


New york stock exchange site was hit earlier today.
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This could be why some of the frequently visited sites have had some issues lately.

Cyber Attack


This is reminiscent as to how Conflicker was to operate or is operating.
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I'm surprise no one mentioned the area off the US East Coast as some models seem to indicate a non frontal feature will develop here 2mr.



Rainfall patterns also show non fronal




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Quoting weatherwatcher12:

Oops sorry.


you're forgiven...
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Quoting TexasHurricane:
just seems like there is just NOTHING happening and probably for a while (tropical wise). I just keep thinking that once it does kick in it is going to be bad...especially with all the heat we have had,especially in Texas. Thos gulf waters are hot.


Well its only July 8th, I think some act like it mid-August already.
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Quoting ClearwaterSteve:
H23 can you send me the link to your site again please.


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H23 can you send me the link to your site again please.
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just seems like there is just NOTHING happening and probably for a while (tropical wise). I just keep thinking that once it does kick in it is going to be bad...especially with all the heat we have had,especially in Texas. Thos gulf waters are hot.
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Quoting sfla82:
I am still going with 09 being a dud year!!!!


Careful that dud year might have a 1-2 punch.Southern forida has a rather dark past during very slow seasons.
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Quoting ClearwaterSteve:
Ah Ok. Ty TF. H23 how ya been.


Hey steve!
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I am still going with 09 being a dud year!!!!
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Quoting presslord:
...ahem...Gaston made landfall in South Carolina...not "the Carolinas"...

Oops sorry.
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Now the wave is lacking convection. There is a wave on the coast of panama. Showing some impressive convection.
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Ah Ok. Ty TF. H23 how ya been.
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Well no matter how many storms we have, the built up energy that is in some parts will provide us some possibly intense storms to track
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Quoting hurricane23:


Wave axis is all but onshore now.

Actually , I think the NHC had the wave axis onshore this morning but after reviewing it shifted it back east, though I agree its probably basically on the coastline of Belize by now.
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Quoting ClearwaterSteve:
Hey all extremely bored here at work. Decided to check the blog. Nothing to track here either. LOL. Anything on the HOrizon?


There is a wave along the s yucatan coast. Looks to have some rotation.
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Quoting stormpetrol:

quikscat keep showing rather strong winds in the blob off Honduras


Wave axis is all but onshore now.
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Hey all extremely bored here at work. Decided to check the blog. Nothing to track here either. LOL. Anything on the HOrizon?
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I still think its going be a slightly above average year(long term that is) I'm sticking with 14/7/4
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000
ABNT20 KNHC 081733
TWOAT
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 PM EDT WED JUL 8 2009

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER KIMBERLAIN/AVILA


Still no development according to the NHC.
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With the exception of SSTs, the Atlantic seems to be near the long-term avearge in regards to shear, SAL, etc. My forecast remains unchange - 12 named storms.
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117. Skyepony (Mod)
I've seen the question here several times.. people wondering if the US temperature records are accurate. NOAA has just published a paper answering those questions..
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quikscat keep showing rather strong winds in the blob off Honduras
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...ahem...Gaston made landfall in South Carolina...not "the Carolinas"...
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Quoting weatherwatcher12:

There was Hurricane Gaston that made landfall in the Carolinas and went up into Virginia, but no direct hits.


And Isabel was another one. Charley skimmed us as a Cat 1 going up the east coast even though forecasters called for hurrricane conditions. Hurricane Irene (2005) tricked forecasters. They said it would either brush VA or make landfall in VA but instead it turned away.Scary moment though. Bertha I do believe in 1996 and fran (96) Also ivan went through Central VA.
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Quoting Weather456:
Again numbers, numbers, numbers...2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Where are the numbers on landfalls? Predict that.


Actually if you look back at some previous seasons with very low numbers most of those years have packed quite a 1-2 punch.1957,1992,and 1965 just to name a few.
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Is this blob in the carribean worth being watched?

Link
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Quoting TexasHurricane:


ok, so the sheer is lessening?
Quoting TexasHurricane:


ok, so the sheer is lessening?


Correct.

11-day moving average shear (May-Present) confirmed this indicating that wind shear is slowing lessening. Shear is lessening faster across the GOM and SW N Atlantic/East and Central Atlantic but continues to decrease very slowly in the Caribbean and W Tropical Atlantic.

This also confirms the moving average

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The number of storms that form in a season has very little to do with the threat on land areas.

I just think all the talk about a "slower season" compared to the last 14 years is sending the wrong message. Whether you like it or not, people will let their guard down
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Quoting Weather456:


I was looking at the wind shear charts, some of the lowest values since the season began.


looked like the GOM and parts of the Carrib were under very low shear... first time to see that...lol! :)
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Quoting Weather456:


I was looking at the wind shear charts, some of the lowest values since the season began.


ok, so the sheer is lessening?
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Record Report

Statement as of 3:47 PM EDT on July 07, 2009

... Record high temperature tied at Miami...

The high temperature today at Miami reached 95 degrees. This ties
the old record high temperature for this date... set back in 1992.
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Quoting hurricane23:


If you use lets say 95-08 mean it amounts to a rather quite season number wise.


completely wrong message though

if you are only using 14 years then it is an incomplete data set. Predicted an average season, but the numbers dont matter at all, its where they form and hit.
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Quoting hurricane23:
Surface pressures are still quite high across the atl with a pretty large pool of rather cool sst's along the main development region.I suspect we me see alot of development north of 20.


I'm with ya there... more close to home stuff..
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Quoting Weather456:
Again numbers, numbers, numbers...2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Where are the numbers on landfalls? Predict that.


yup you cant predict that, but I will say this, if more storms are going to form closer to home, a good amount of storms may affect the US

Also it said ACE of 80, intense storms can still have low ACEs' if they form close to home

Great example is Charley, ACE was 10.6
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Quoting TexasHurricane:


meaning??


I was looking at the wind shear charts, some of the lowest values since the season began.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


actually 11 is average now, the technical average is 10.6, so it is not below normal


If you use lets say 95-08 mean it amounts to a rather quite season number wise.
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Again numbers, numbers, numbers...2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Where are the numbers on landfalls? Predict that.
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Surface pressures are still quite high across the atl with a pretty large pool of rather cool sst's along the main development region.I suspect we me see alot of development north of 20.
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Quoting tropicfreak:
Fact: Since records began in 1950, a hurricane,TS or TD has never made landfall in VA (includes eastern shore) We've been impacted by tropical weather that hit the east coast from the carolinas to Florida but we've never received a direct landfall in VA

There was Hurricane Gaston that made landfall in the Carolinas and went up into Virginia, but no direct hits.
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Quoting Dar9895:

I think their last year predictions were 15 named storm.


actually their last year prediction was 7 or 8, it was below normal

again they are always conservative
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No one, not even I have any idea of what August might bring. We have a developing El Nino (that could go 2 ways), no activity thus far and nothing for weeks, extremely high SSTs and this is telling us what to expect August and September?
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Quoting Weather456:
I'm not even going to read the UKMET season forecast becuz of their predictions last year. I don't even know why they bother. I mean 6? Ridiculous.

I think their last year predictions were 15 named storm.
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Quoting Weather456:
Pattern Changing



meaning??
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Quoting hurricane23:
Tropical storm risk also updated there seasonal numbers today to 11/6/2 from 11/5/2 previously.

Below normal season


actually 11 is average now, the technical average is 10.6, so it is not below normal
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Quoting SomeRandomTexan:
TCHP= Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential

It basically is the fuel for storms.. in everyday terms

the reder it is its like 93 octane fuel...lol!


oh ok...yeah the waters are toasty.
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather