The Varied Impacts of El Niño–Southern Oscillation on Pacific Island Climates

Bradley F. Murphy Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Scott B. Power Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Simon McGree National Climate Centre, Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) drives interannual climate variability in many tropical Pacific island countries, but different El Niño events might be expected to produce varying rainfall impacts. To investigate these possible variations, El Niño events were divided into three categories based on where the largest September–February sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies occur: warm pool El Niño (WPE), cold tongue El Niño (CTE), and mixed El Niño (ME), between the other two.

Large-scale SST and wind patterns for each type of El Niño show distinct and significant differences, as well as shifts in rainfall patterns in the main convergence zones. As a result, November to April rainfall in many Pacific island countries is significantly different among the El Niño types. In western equatorial Pacific islands, CTE events are associated with drier than normal conditions whereas ME and WPE events are associated with significantly wetter than normal conditions. This is due to the South Pacific convergence zone and intertropical convergence zone moving equatorward and merging in CTE events. Rainfall in the convergence zones is enhanced during ME and WPE and the displacement is smaller. La Niña events also show robust impacts that most closely mirror those of ME events.

In the northwest and southwest Pacific strong CTE events have much larger impacts on rainfall than ME and WPE, as SST anomalies and correspondingly large-scale surface wind and rainfall changes are largest in CTE. While variations in rainfall exist between different types of El Niño and the significant impacts on Pacific countries of each event are different, the two extreme CTE events have produced the most atypical impacts.

Corresponding author address: Bradley F. Murphy, GPO Box 1289, Melbourne VIC 3001, Australia. E-mail: b.murphy@bom.gov.au

Abstract

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) drives interannual climate variability in many tropical Pacific island countries, but different El Niño events might be expected to produce varying rainfall impacts. To investigate these possible variations, El Niño events were divided into three categories based on where the largest September–February sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies occur: warm pool El Niño (WPE), cold tongue El Niño (CTE), and mixed El Niño (ME), between the other two.

Large-scale SST and wind patterns for each type of El Niño show distinct and significant differences, as well as shifts in rainfall patterns in the main convergence zones. As a result, November to April rainfall in many Pacific island countries is significantly different among the El Niño types. In western equatorial Pacific islands, CTE events are associated with drier than normal conditions whereas ME and WPE events are associated with significantly wetter than normal conditions. This is due to the South Pacific convergence zone and intertropical convergence zone moving equatorward and merging in CTE events. Rainfall in the convergence zones is enhanced during ME and WPE and the displacement is smaller. La Niña events also show robust impacts that most closely mirror those of ME events.

In the northwest and southwest Pacific strong CTE events have much larger impacts on rainfall than ME and WPE, as SST anomalies and correspondingly large-scale surface wind and rainfall changes are largest in CTE. While variations in rainfall exist between different types of El Niño and the significant impacts on Pacific countries of each event are different, the two extreme CTE events have produced the most atypical impacts.

Corresponding author address: Bradley F. Murphy, GPO Box 1289, Melbourne VIC 3001, Australia. E-mail: b.murphy@bom.gov.au
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