Updated on 15 October 2019

ENSO status

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) monitoring system remains in the “Neutral” status this month. Sub-surface temperatures of the tropical Pacific Ocean continued to cool, especially over the Central and Eastern Pacific regions. Atmospheric conditions were also overall neutral. The Nino3.4 index was -0.14°C for August 2019 and 0.14°C for June-August 2019 three-month average.

Model outlooks from international centres are generally predicting Nino3.4 SST anomalies to remain within neutral values until around early 2020. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is still in the positive phase. A positive IOD typically contributes to below-normal rainfall conditions over Singapore and the nearby region, as had happened in the last few months. The positive IOD is expected to decay gradually towards the end of the year, while its influence typically decays as well toward the end of the year.

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 SSTs over the central and eastern Pacific have cooled but still within the neutral range in August 2019 (Figure 1). Over the Indian Ocean, the SSTs in the west are warmer than average, while the SSTs in the east are colder than average. The difference in SST anomalies between the western and eastern Indian Ocean is monitored through the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) index. When the IOD is positive, as at the moment, below-normal rainfall conditions are favoured over the southern and eastern Maritime Continent.

Sea surface temperature anomaly plot

Figure 1: Detrended SST anomalies for August 2019 with respect to 1976-2014 climatology using ERSST v5 data. Warm shades show regions of relative warming, while cool shades show regions of relative 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 over the past year or so (Figure 2), after the 2017-2018 La Niña, the 1-month Nino3.4 value continued warming. It reached its peak in November 2018 after having crossed the El Niño threshold (0.65°C) for 2 months (October and November 2018). Subsequently, the Nino3.4 value fluctuated around the threshold until April 2019, when it has weakened since. For El Niño conditions to be present, 1-month warm SST anomalies (observed or forecast) should persist for at least four months above the threshold, with at least one of the months observed along 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) indicate Nino3.4 SST to remain within neutral values until the end of the year and into early 2020. The outlooks, however, show a wide spread of possible outcomes.

Forecast Nino3.4 index

Figure 3: Forecasts of Nino3.4 index’s strength for the rest of 2019 and into early 2020 from various seasonal prediction models of international climate centres (image credit: Copernicus C3S).

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 in 2015-18 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. The most recent El Niño and La Niña events are in red and purple, respectively.

Impact of El Niño/La Niña on Southeast Asia

Typically, the impact of El Niño on Southeast Asia is drier-than-average rainfall conditions, especially during the period June and October, and over the Maritime Continent (Figure 5, left, for September-November season in-progress). Warmer temperature conditions typically follow drier periods. The opposite is 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.

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


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.