Updated on 8 May 2024

ENSO status

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) monitoring system state is “El Niño Conditions”. The Nino3.4 index continues to indicate a weakening of El Niño conditions. Atmospheric indicators (cloudiness and trade winds) are also consistent with a transition from El Niño to ENSO neutral conditions. The Nino3.4 index was 0.91°C for March 2024 and 1.29°C for the January – March 2024 three-month average.

Models predict ENSO neutral conditions during May – June 2024, with a potential for La Niña conditions in the second half of the year.

Short note on the Indian Ocean Dipole: The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is neutral.

Further Information on ENSO

ENSO conditions are monitored by analysing Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs), low level winds, cloudiness (using outgoing longwave radiation), and sub-surface temperatures. Special attention is given to SSTs, as they are one of the key indicators used to monitor ENSO. Here, three different datasets are used: HadISST, ERSSTv5, and COBE datasets. As globally, SSTs have gradually warmed over the last century under the influence of climate change, the SST values over the Nino3.4 will increasingly be magnified with time, and hence appear warmer than they should be. Therefore, this background trend is removed from the SST datasets (Turkington, Timbal, & Rahmat, 2018), before calculating SST anomalies using the climatology period 1976-2014. So far, there has been no noticeable background trend in the low-level winds or cloudiness.

El Niño (La Niña) conditions are associated with warmer (colder) SSTs in the central and eastern Pacific. The threshold for an El Niño (La Niña) in the Nino3.4 region is above 0.65°C (below -0.65°C). El Niño (La Niña) conditions also correspond to an increase (decrease) in cloudiness around or to the east of the international dateline (180°), with a decrease (increase) in cloudiness in the west. There is also a decrease (increase) in the trade winds in the eastern Pacific. Sub-surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific should also be warmer (colder) than average, to sustain the El Niño (La Niña) conditions.

For ENSO outlooks, information from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and international climate centres are assessed. The centres include the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) USA, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) Australia, as well as information from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) which consolidates model outputs from other centres around the world. Each centre uses different criteria, including different SST thresholds. Therefore, variations between centres on the current ENSO state should be expected, especially when conditions are borderline.

The sea surface temperatures (SSTs) over the tropical Pacific showed a weakening El Niño pattern in March 2024 (Figure 1). The tropical Pacific SSTs were above average in the central and eastern tropical Pacific and near to above average in the western Pacific. For the Nino3.4 region (red box), the SSTs were warmer than average, although less warm than in previous months. Across the Indian Ocean, tropical SSTs were also warm, including both the western portion (solid black box) and the eastern portion (dashed black box) in line with neutral conditions.

Sea surface temperature anomaly plot

Figure 1: Detrended SST anomalies February 2024 with respect to 1976-2014 climatology using ERSST v5 data. Red (blue) shades show regions of relative warming (cooling). The tropical Pacific Ocean Nino3.4 Region is outlined in red. The Indian Ocean Dipole index is the difference between average SST anomalies over the western Indian Ocean (black solid box) and the eastern Indian Ocean (black dotted box).

Looking at the Nino3.4 index in Figure 2, in October 2022, the index indicated La Niña conditions, however, there was a gradual warming of the index from the end of 2022. The index returned to the ENSO-neutral range by March 2023. Between March and June, the index continued to warm, but was within the ENSO-neutral range. Since July 2023, the Nino3.4 has exceeded the El Niño threshold. However, the index has weakened since the end of 2023. El Niño conditions are considered when the 1-month warm SST anomalies are above the orange threshold and either persist or are predicted to persist for at least four months, along with supporting atmospheric observations.

Observed Nino3.4 index

Figure 2: The Nino3.4 index using the 1-month SST anomalies. Warm anomalies (≥ +0.65; brown) correspond to El Niño conditions while cold anomalies (≤ -0.65; blue) correspond to La Niña conditions; otherwise neutral (> -0.65 and < +0.65; grey).

Model outlooks from Copernicus C3S (Figure 3), based on the Nino3.4 SST index, show that most models predict the El Niño conditions to continue weakening, with most models predicting ENSO-neutral conditions during May and June. While some models are indicating potential La Niña conditions from June onwards, there is considerable uncertainty in the long-term forecasts at this time of the year.

Forecast Nino3.4 index

Figure 3: Forecasts of Nino3.4 index’s strength until September 2024 from various seasonal prediction models from international climate centres (grey lines). The blue and yellow lines note the La Niña and El Niño thresholds, respectively, used by various centres.

Historical ENSO Variability
To classify a historical El Niño event, the 3-month average Nino3.4 value must be above 0.65°C for 5 or more consecutive months. For La Niña events, the threshold is -0.65°C. Otherwise it is considered neutral. ENSO events with a peak value above 1.5°C (El Niño) or below -1.5°C (La Niña) are considered strong. Otherwise, the events are considered weak to moderate in strength. The following figure (Figure 4) shows the development of the Nino3.4 index for the most recent El Niño and La Niña events in comparison to other El Niño/La Niña events.

Past ENSO events

Figure 4: Three-month Nino3.4 index development and retreat of different El Niño (left)/La Niña (right) events since the 1960s. Recent El Niño and La Niña events are in red and purple, respectively.

Impact of El Niño/La Niña on Southeast Asia
The typical impact of El Niño on Southeast Asia is drier-than-average rainfall conditions, including for much of the Maritime Continent during June to August (Figure 5, left). Warmer temperature conditions typically follow drier periods. The opposite conditions for rainfall (and consequently temperature) are observed during La Niña years (Figure 5, right).

The impact on the region’s rainfall and temperature from ENSO events is more significantly felt during strong or moderate-intensity events. Also, no two El Niño events or two La Niña events are exactly alike in terms of their impact on the region.

Figure 5: June to August (JJA) season rainfall anomaly composites (mm/day) for El Niño (left) and La Niña (right) years. Brown (green) shades show regions of drier (wetter) conditions. Note that this anomaly composite was generated using a limited number of El Niño and La Niña occurrences between 1979 and 2017 and therefore should be interpreted with caution (data: NOAA CPC CAMS_OPI).

References
Turkington, T., Timbal, B., & Rahmat, R. (2018). The impact of global warming on sea surface temperature based El Nino Southern Oscillation monitoring indices. International Journal of Climatology, 39(2).

El Niño/La Niña
  • For El Niño/La Niña updates, information provided by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and various international climate centres are assessed. The centres include the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) USA, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) Australia, as well as information from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) which consolidates model outputs from various other centres around the world.