Decadal and Seasonal Dependence of ENSO Prediction Skill

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  • 1 Departamento de Fisica, Universidad de Alcala de Henares, Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain
  • | 2 Hadley Centre, U.K. Meteorological Office, Bracknell, Berkshire, England
  • | 3 Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, England
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Abstract

When forecasting sea surface temperature (SST) in the Equatorial Pacific on a timescale of several seasons, most prediction schemes have a spring barrier; that is, they have skill scores that are substantially lower when predicting northern spring and summer conditions compared to autumn and winter. This feature is investigated by examining predictions during the 1970s and the 1980s, using a dynamic ocean model of intermediate complexity coupled to a statistical atmosphere. Results show that predictions initialized during the 1970s exhibit the typical prominent skill decay in spring, whereas the seasonal dependence in those predictions initialized during the 1980s is rather small. Similar changes in seasonal dependence are also found in predictions based on simple persistence of observed SST anomalies.

This decadal change in the spring barrier is related to decadal variations found in the seasonal phase locking of the SST anomalies, which is largely determined by the timing of El Niño events. The spring barrier was strong in the 1970s, when El Niño was strongly phaselocked to the annual cycle. An analysis of observed SST anomalies from 1900 to 1990 shows several changes in behavior on a decadal scale, with the largest change being from the 1970s to the 1980s.

The seasonal dependence of model heat content predictions is investigated and found to be similar to that for SST, except that it shows a winter barrier rather than the spring barrier evident in SST.

Abstract

When forecasting sea surface temperature (SST) in the Equatorial Pacific on a timescale of several seasons, most prediction schemes have a spring barrier; that is, they have skill scores that are substantially lower when predicting northern spring and summer conditions compared to autumn and winter. This feature is investigated by examining predictions during the 1970s and the 1980s, using a dynamic ocean model of intermediate complexity coupled to a statistical atmosphere. Results show that predictions initialized during the 1970s exhibit the typical prominent skill decay in spring, whereas the seasonal dependence in those predictions initialized during the 1980s is rather small. Similar changes in seasonal dependence are also found in predictions based on simple persistence of observed SST anomalies.

This decadal change in the spring barrier is related to decadal variations found in the seasonal phase locking of the SST anomalies, which is largely determined by the timing of El Niño events. The spring barrier was strong in the 1970s, when El Niño was strongly phaselocked to the annual cycle. An analysis of observed SST anomalies from 1900 to 1990 shows several changes in behavior on a decadal scale, with the largest change being from the 1970s to the 1980s.

The seasonal dependence of model heat content predictions is investigated and found to be similar to that for SST, except that it shows a winter barrier rather than the spring barrier evident in SST.

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