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Tropical ocean contributions to California's surprisingly dry El Nino of 2015/16

TitleTropical ocean contributions to California's surprisingly dry El Nino of 2015/16
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsSiler N., Kosaka Y, Xie SP, Li X.C
JournalJournal of Climate
Date Published2017/12
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0894-8755
Accession NumberWOS:000423492500016
Keywordsanomalies; circulation; convection; drought; impacts; Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences; north-american climate; pacific; precipitation; variability; weather

The major El Nino of 2015/16 brought significantly less precipitation to California than previous events of comparable strength, much to the disappointment of residents suffering through the state's fourth consecutive year of severe drought. Here, California's weak precipitation in 2015/16 relative to previous major El Nino events is investigated within a 40-member ensemble of atmosphere-only simulations run with historical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and constant radiative forcing. The simulations reveal significant differences in both California precipitation and the large-scale atmospheric circulation between 2015/16 and previous strong El Nino events, which are similar to (albeit weaker than) the differences found in observations. Principal component analysis indicates that these ensemble-mean differences were likely related to a pattern of tropical SST variability with a strong signal in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific and a weaker signal in the eastern equatorial Pacific and subtropical North Atlantic. This SST pattern was missed by the majority of forecast models, which could partly explain their erroneous predictions of above-average precipitation in California in 2015/16.

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