The Variability of Seasonality

S. Pezzulli Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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D. B. Stephenson Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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A. Hannachi Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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Abstract

Seasons are the complex nonlinear response of the physical climate system to regular annual solar forcing. There is no a priori reason why they should remain fixed/invariant from year to year, as is often assumed in climate studies when extracting the seasonal component. The widely used econometric variant of Census Method II Seasonal Adjustment Program (X-11), which allows for year-to-year variations in seasonal shape, is shown here to have some advantages for diagnosing climate variability. The X-11 procedure is applied to the monthly mean Niño-3.4 sea surface temperature (SST) index and global gridded NCEP–NCAR reanalyses of 2-m surface air temperature. The resulting seasonal component shows statistically significant interannual variations over many parts of the globe. By taking these variations in seasonality into account, it is shown that one can define less ambiguous ENSO indices. Furthermore, using the X-11 seasonal adjustment approach, it is shown that the three cold ENSO episodes after 1998 are due to an increase in amplitude of seasonality rather than being three distinct La Niña events. Globally, variations in the seasonal component represent a substantial fraction of the year-to-year variability in monthly mean temperatures. In addition, strong teleconnections can be discerned between the magnitude of seasonal variations across the globe. It might be possible to exploit such relationships to improve the skill of seasonal climate forecasts.

Corresponding author address: Dr. S. Pezzulli, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, P.O. Box 243, Reading RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: S.Pezzulli@reading.ac.uk

Abstract

Seasons are the complex nonlinear response of the physical climate system to regular annual solar forcing. There is no a priori reason why they should remain fixed/invariant from year to year, as is often assumed in climate studies when extracting the seasonal component. The widely used econometric variant of Census Method II Seasonal Adjustment Program (X-11), which allows for year-to-year variations in seasonal shape, is shown here to have some advantages for diagnosing climate variability. The X-11 procedure is applied to the monthly mean Niño-3.4 sea surface temperature (SST) index and global gridded NCEP–NCAR reanalyses of 2-m surface air temperature. The resulting seasonal component shows statistically significant interannual variations over many parts of the globe. By taking these variations in seasonality into account, it is shown that one can define less ambiguous ENSO indices. Furthermore, using the X-11 seasonal adjustment approach, it is shown that the three cold ENSO episodes after 1998 are due to an increase in amplitude of seasonality rather than being three distinct La Niña events. Globally, variations in the seasonal component represent a substantial fraction of the year-to-year variability in monthly mean temperatures. In addition, strong teleconnections can be discerned between the magnitude of seasonal variations across the globe. It might be possible to exploit such relationships to improve the skill of seasonal climate forecasts.

Corresponding author address: Dr. S. Pezzulli, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, P.O. Box 243, Reading RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: S.Pezzulli@reading.ac.uk

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