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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1043. Madokie
evening all, greetings from the hot as heck midwest!!
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Quoting presslord:
Absolutely!!!!!!!!! Consider it done!!! I'll throw in an autographed picture of me in the dress if it'll help...



LOL
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This is what you got smacked with DeerfieldBeachGuy:
Link

Will be interesting to say what they say about it in the a.m.
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If I remember correctly, the year Tropical Storm Allison dropped 23-inches of rain on Houston in 2-days... we were having an abnormally dry Spring and early Summer. Then nature made up for it all at once.

The year of the great Mid-West Flood, I think in July 1993, the Spring & Summer in Kansas was exceptionally dry. Hardly any rain, crops were drying out... then about July 7th, here comes the rain.

Hopefully your words don't come true about Texas this year. We could use some slow, gradual rain, not bucketloads all at once.
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Absolutely!!!!!!!!! Consider it done!!! I'll throw in an autographed picture of me in the dress if it'll help...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Even though the odds are in my favor, they are not in my favor enough ;) Sorry no bet.
Too funny!
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Hi PressLord, Thanks! Any chance we can get StormJunkie to autograph it?!
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Had a REAL nasty severe thunderstorm roll across southeastern Palm Beach county earlier this evening around 6:30 PM.

I was in class @ Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton when the storm rolled in; power was knocked out and wind gust had to be in the 60-70 mph range.

There were numerous small trees, large branches, and heavy palm frawns littering the roads and parking lots thereafter. I saw a few trees split in half as if they had been struck by lightning.

By far the strongest thunderstorm my area has seen this summer!
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Hi Texas,
I hate to say this, but Nature has a way of evening itself out. It always reminds me of the old fable about being careful what you wish for...you pray for rain and get a deluge.
I really have no idea what will happen this season. But with the intense warming and deep SSTs, one cannot help but think we're in for some virulent storms this season. And all the talk about El Nino. They've just finally decided we're having one. That is not a strong El Nino, at least not yet. So just get prepared. Make sure you get friendly with your neighbors and make them aware. That's all we can do now except watch and wait.
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1032. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
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1031. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Tropical Depression "GORIO" has maintained its strength as it moves farther away from the country.

Tropical Cyclone Bulletin #4
========================
At 11:00 AM PhST, Tropical Depression Gorio (05W) located at 18.7ºN 119.5ºE or 110 kms northwest of Laoag City has 10 minute sustained winds of 55 km/h (30 knots).

Signal Warnings
=================

Signal Warning #1 (30-60 kph winds)

Luzon Region
1.Ilocos Sur
2.Ilocos Norte

Additional Information
=======================
Public Storm Warning Signal elsewhere now lowered.

TD "GORIO" is expected to enhance the southwest monsoon and bring rains over the western section of Luzon and Western Visayas.

Residents in low lying areas and near mountain slopes are advised to take all the necessary precautions against possible flashfloods and landslides.

The public and the disaster coordinating councils concerned are advised to take appropriate actions and watch for the next bulletin to be issued at 5 PM today.
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ChickLit and SSIG...I like y'alls style ; )
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Chicklit:

The season may be much wetter than '04 in Florida, but in Texas we are having a serious drought. We haven't had the usual S.E.Texas rainy season this year.

Strange weather pattern so far this season. Hasn't the jet stream been a little further North this year than normal, setting in upper Midwest? Then when the jet stream dips South, it comes down dramatically, all the way into the Northern Gulf.

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1028. BtnTx
If your air conditioner makes ice chunks, that means it needs fixing as something is wrong with the system. Generally means low air flow from dirty filter or dirty evaporator coil. In times of lower temps it can indicate low refrigerant level. I used to do service A/C for a living.
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Okay, St. Simons; however, all of the elements will be in place by then. It will just be a matter of timing. Most likely just an Invest, in which case, you will be wearing MY teeshirt so I will have to buy two.
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Goodnight Baha...Enjoy the fireworks and your independence!
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Saying one should ignore past seasons has always seemed .... well, strange..... to me. We can't research what hasn't happened yet. Our only source of info is what has already happened. Even models are useless if they don't have past patterns to begin with (i. e. in training).

Didn't someone say those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it?

Hi Baha. This season so far is reminiscent of '04 for the late start; however, it is much wetter. So don't know what to compare it to.
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Goodnight, all.

Tomorrow is the 36th anniversary of Bahamian Independence, and the fireworks should be starting in about 1/2 hour. Since it may be a little cooler outside as well, I think I'll head out and watch.

New Providence is so tiny (and flat lol) that someone sitting on their porch on the South coast can see the Fireworks display taking place on the north side of the island....

Goodnight, all.
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1022. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Disturbance Summary
09:00 AM JST July 10 2009
================================

Subject: Tropical Depression in Bashi Channel

At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Depression (1000 hPa) located at 18.7N 120.2E has sustained winds of 30 knots with gust of 45 knots. The depression is reported as moving west-northwest at 10 knots
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Saying one should ignore past seasons has always seemed .... well, strange..... to me. We can't research what hasn't happened yet. Our only source of info is what has already happened. Even models are useless if they don't have past patterns to begin with (i. e. in training).

Didn't someone say those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it?
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On the day of the next full moon we will have a named tropical system, if not a hurricane. I'm betting one Portlight tee shirt. If there is one, you buy me one, if there's not, I buy you one...only one, by the way.
Any takers?
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Hi all.....

Full Moon, and a full blown storm in Niceville this afternoon! Wind, hail, downpour.
El Nino' amd we have had a very wet winter, spring and summer... toss in some "hot" and you've got July on the Panhandle!

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1017. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
its all good V95
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I thought the Doc did a pretty good job showing the difference between these two different forms of el nino. But looking at that map of SSTs posted earlier (by Drak? 23?) it seems we are going to see appreciable warming in the EPac region. I can see potential for a pretty hot 'n heavy six weeks from about 15 Aug to the end of September, because so far we are just on the warm side of neutral. After that, if the EPac continues to warm at a faster rate than the CPac, I wouldn't be surprised to see a decrease in Oct / Nov storms.

I still am more concerned about strength and steering than numbers, though. We'll REALLY be making progress when we can start to give seasonal forecasts that suggest reasonably accurately where the season's strongest systems are likely to go.
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1014. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting BahaHurican:
Maybe I should turn it off tomorrow a.m. while I'm cleaning the car. Don't want it to get all froze up.
i use a hand held hair dryer take of grill go to work melts all the ice inside unit in about 30 mins so the house don't go to long without the ac
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1013. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Tropical Cyclone Warning #2
=============================
At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Depression FIVE (NONAME) located at 18.7N 120.7E or 420 NM east-southeast of Hong Kong, China has sustained winds of 30 knots with gusts of 40 knots. The depression is reported as moving west at 16 knots.

Significant wave height associated with 05W is 10 feet
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Quoting Chicklit:

Have you looked outside? It's a full moon.


I would if it was not cloudy out, lol.
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Quoting Vortex95:
A season will never be the same as previous one but there are correlations and patterns that was quite known to occur which can be matched up with other years although there is no given anything will be similar.
I agree but they are more of a characteristic correlation, not a guide to determine the precise whens, wheres, whys and hows of this season.
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Quoting sporteguy03:


yep seems like a trend nightly.

Have you looked outside? It's a full moon. I'll predict a named tropical system next full moon. (That's not so far on a limb.) Anyone wanna bet a Portlight tee shirt?
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Quoting Drakoen:


Blended ice drinks sounds good right about now.

My A/C does that too. I had to chizel out a block of ice from it the past.
Maybe I should turn it off tomorrow a.m. while I'm cleaning the car. Don't want it to get all froze up.
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Quoting Vortex95:
A season will never be the same as previous one but there are correlations and patterns that was quite known to occur which can be matched up with other years although there is no given anything will be similar.

Too many variables. Also why no two people from the same parents look, or even behave the same.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:

hey SG03 all the crazys are coming out and more yet to come

sit back enjoy the show



yep seems like a trend nightly.
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1005. Drakoen
Quoting Vortex95:
lol that happend to mine too it had a thin layer of ice on the bottom part of the unit. we had to turn it off for 8 hours and put a large pan over it to catch the water.


Our pan overflowed. My ice was like a chunk.
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Quoting hunkerdown:
What happened in prior years is in no way an exact correlation to this year. What happened in the past is in the past and what happens this year is truly yet to be determined. People can predict and post numbers. They are nothing but guesses, harmless at that considering they are guesses for the future.


seems though some don't learn from the past years though.
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Thanks for clarifying what Haboobs are Patrap... Here in Daytona we think they're something you see at Hooters during Bike Week.
BTW, I just finished my 8th assignment (out of 10) for a grad course I'm taking called 'grant writing and contract administration.'
So if someone wants me to write a weather grant for them, just let me know. I'm almost an expert! LOL
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1000. Drakoen
Quoting BahaHurican:
Did u say hot in the Bahamas???

Yep. Just made myself one of those blended ice drinks. Even the a/c is sweating....


Blended ice drinks sounds good right about now.

My A/C does that too. I had to chizel out a block of ice from it the past.
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Quoting sporteguy03:


2?

hey SG03 all the crazys are coming out and more yet to come

sit back enjoy the show

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What happened in prior years is in no way an exact correlation to this year. What happened in the past is in the past and what happens this year is truly yet to be determined. People can predict and post numbers. They are nothing but guesses, harmless at that considering they are guesses for the future.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Again people getting carried away, I had no idea we were in August already lol


Seems that if we don't start early every year, people start writing off the season early.
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Quoting Drakoen:
That is a nice view Adrian. Looks hot in the Caribbean and Bahamas.
Did u say hot in the Bahamas???

Yep. Just made myself one of those blended ice drinks. Even the a/c is sweating....
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Quoting jasoniscoolman09:
i think we are going to see about two hurricanes for the hurricane season that all.


2?
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evening all
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Quoting KoritheMan:


Highly unlikely. I can only think of one season, sans 1907 and 1914, in which we had 2 hurricanes or less, and that is 1982. That El Nino event was much stronger than this one.


Again people getting carried away, I had no idea we were in August already lol
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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