El Niño is widely recognized as a source of global climate variability. However, because of limited ocean observations during the early part of the twentieth century, little is known about El Niño events prior to the 1950s. An ocean model, driven with surface boundary conditions from a recently completed atmospheric reanalysis of the first half of the twentieth century, is used to provide the first comprehensive description of the structure and evolution of the 1918/19 El Niño. In contrast with previous descriptions, the modeled El Niño is one of the strongest of the twentieth century, comparable in intensity to the prominent events of 1982/83 and 1997/98.

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