El Nino - La Nina

ftl's picture
ftl started the topic in Thursday, 14 Oct 2010 at 1:35am

Hi Guys,
So I know that El Nino is a warming of pacific ocean currents and La Nina is a cooling, but how does each effect surfers for people in Australia? I am under the impression that these changing currents appear nearer to South America than Australia, but surely they must still have an effect, as I know that these patterns affect our weather as Souther Oscillation Index changes over time...

Basically - what gives better/different surf conditions around Australia? El Nino or La Nina?

donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather Thursday, 14 Oct 2010 at 3:12am

Basically - what gives better/different surf conditions around Australia? El Nino or La Nina?

By: "ftl"

No disrespect, but how long is a piece of string!!! That is, you want to know for all the locations around Oz what produces the better surfing conditions....El Nino or La Nina.

I'm not sure where you live, but if you read the Nth NSW or SE Qld extended surf forecasts on swellnet, Steve Shearer gives a weekly insight into the La Nina impact on the surf in this region. Quite informative reading.

We are currently in a quite strong La Nina and this has produced (thus far) one of the best Springs (surf wise) for SE Qld/Nth NSW that I can remember for some time. La Nina also increases the chances of Tropical Cyclone development in the Coral Sea, which I'm actually not a huge fan of as I prefer the cyclones a little further offshore, closer to New Cal/Fiji/NZ so the swell has time to iron out before hitting the SE Qld coastline.

That's not to say that one doesn't also get large cyclones in El Nino years also, just less frequent than La Nina years, historically.

I'm sure Steve and Craig, and others can add well to this question you've posted.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Thursday, 14 Oct 2010 at 3:29am

Hi FTL, as Don has said this is an enormously complex issue and yet there are some very good rules of thumb for the east coast of Aus.
I haven't got time to run through them right now but will try and answer in more detail when I do.

ftl's picture
ftl's picture
ftl Thursday, 14 Oct 2010 at 11:31am

thanks guys will wait and see :)
Its not just that I personally want to know and am selfish enough to assume you guys in the know would want to spend your time answering my questions, I just want to get more info up on here because surf related articles of this kind are often difficult to find. I know that I have often struggled to come across useful information, so I just want to make these forums a "go to" for finding this stuff out. thanks again

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jazzy Sunday, 17 Oct 2010 at 10:45pm

in point break thers a thing brought up about a fifty year storm this true fanomenom too.
every fifty years a storm will be bigger than all the rest.

an inconvinient truth is a good film to watch coz it tells something about the world that effects surf conditions and that is warming of the climate and the possibility of another ice age because of the ice caps meltig comined with more precipitation caused by warmer climates and movements of fluids from the poles to the deserts where they will freeze in the night time cold cooling the climate of the earth quickly adding to the cooling.

I am just learning about la nina and i think it is to do with warmer sea surface temps in the coral sea (just off noosa). cyclones like warmer water and so you will get cyclones forming closer to the qld coast than normal. The MJO is a new topic that has brought up and this is to do with the monsoon season starting or something anyway it just started I think but has moved north lately. Look in wikipadia for any thing you can't figure out I do and its a great help.

Craig's picture
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Craig Monday, 18 Oct 2010 at 12:06am

Steve would have a far better idea about the effects of La Nina on surf than I would as I grew up in SA and didn't see the different variations of El Nino and La Nina first hand.

From what I gather and from what Don and Jazzy have stated is that the western Pacific Ocean is a lot warmer than under "normal" conditions with the upwelling off the Peruvian Coast in overdrive while the easterly trades have also kicked up a gear, leading to the pile up of warmer water to the west.

Obviously this will provide a more productive environment for TC formation in the Coral Sea due to the warmer SST's and therefore we should see an above average season.

What I'm interested in is when the autumn months come around. With all the warm water running down south via the East Australian Current to Sydney latitudes, we're bound to see some interesting developments as cold polar air pushes over the top of this warm water, hopefully resulting in the formation of a series of East Coast Low's.

We can only hope...

donweather's picture
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donweather Monday, 18 Oct 2010 at 9:47am

What I'm interested in is when the autumn months come around. With all the warm water running down south via the East Australian Current to Sydney latitudes, we're bound to see some interesting developments as cold polar air pushes over the top of this warm water, hopefully resulting in the formation of a series of East Coast Low's.

We can only hope...

By: "craig"

Damn good point Craig, although come Autumn, the latest ENSO models are indicating La Nina to weaken somewhat from it's peak late this year.....boooohoooo.

Craig's picture
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Craig Monday, 18 Oct 2010 at 8:49pm

That's fine Don as the warm water will already be stored up in the Coral Sea so we'll see this filter down the coast into autumn anyway :)

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radbone08 Tuesday, 16 Nov 2010 at 1:05am

What sort of winds does the la nina deliver?

carpetman's picture
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carpetman Thursday, 5 Sep 2013 at 1:58pm

Bumping this with a few more specific questions. .

From my reading it sounds like during an El Nino pattern the Northern Pacific Ocean experiences increased swell activity leading to better waves on the West Coast of the US... but screw them.

What impact does the ENSO have on the IOD and is there any historical evidence that suggest whether a negative or positive IOD will increase storm activity in the Southern Indian Ocean?

Maybe there's no impact at all but it's a question I've had for sometime and google couldn't give me a straight answer.

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southey Thursday, 5 Sep 2013 at 3:49pm

Carpetman ,

Yes and Yes .

I don't have time ATM , its really complex . If i do in the near future I'll try to explain .

Try Weatherzone ( Swellnets office buddy / affiliates ) Forum .

They have a rather large back catalogue of Threads to do with ENSO , IOD , ITF ( Indonesian Through Flow ) , and the Southern Ocean teleconnections .
Some people who contribute are BOM , ex- BOM and private climate Guru's .

This is a link to one thread " http://forum.weatherzone.com.au/ubbthreads.php/topics/794818/Pacific_Dec... "
but there is a goldmine of info in many different threads and back catalogues , hypothesis ,a nd links to really indepth papers . If you have time ....

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carpetman Thursday, 5 Sep 2013 at 4:51pm


Thanks Southey. I'll have a look this evening. Really appreciate it!

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southey Friday, 4 Oct 2013 at 8:18pm

CM ,

One of the early triggers of a Positive IOD ( and i'm talking strong positive ) is cool water upwellings along the entire Javan and lower Sumatera coasts . This may have you seeing more west swells as you have hinted at , but you'll have to wear a springsuit to keep warm and stay i the water longer than 2 hrs at somewhere like G-Land .

More interestingly the SAM / AAO ( Southern Ocean Indice equivalent. to ENSO and IOD ) has been strong negative this year coupled with an ACW node being located , for a fair amount of mid winter below the centre of the Indian Ocean Invigorating lows as they pass . The early season was Negative IOD and turned negative earlier than normal , which saw the Leeuwin run early and strong which in turn influenced a good run of waves in SA and VIC early winter . Many of the storms had advanced to far east to provide good indo Untill mid winter , but saying that this years Tropical Indian Ocean swell season may linger a little longer . But more so more Sth swells . There is very little that I'm aware of in the way of direct correlations with all of the above . There is just too many variables that make hindcasting hard enough let alone forecasting beyond a month in advance .

Back to your point , thermal mixing , LWT node patterns , and the SAM /AAO index are good to watch and look for rhythms . Generally within two weeks of the SAM dipping , storms will most likely go a little harder in these SST thermal mixing locations . But they have to be timed right with Nodal patterns in the LWT . ( Upper Atmosphere )

All of the above is from what i remember of reading into this heavily a few years ago . Maybe Ben and Craig are more aware of this .
The majority of what i have read , has been sourced or eventually traced back to a guy named BOB TISDALE , who seems to be allover the IOD - ENSO - SAM - ACW teleconnections , and for that matter Ocean Gyre patterns . Good luck .
Beware though there is ALOT of heavy reading .

wellymon's picture
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wellymon Saturday, 5 Oct 2013 at 10:07am

Southey says
"Beware though there is ALOT of heavy reading."

Carpetman after reading the link from Southey that evening, One month later you've posted your conclusion, wanting some verification.
Good work champ, as I'm pretty bamboozled even reading Southeys 3-4 letter acronyms and theories, let alone all the other links..?

Weatherzone"s news yesterday said Australia might be coming in to an El-Nino period for 2014, but will have a better idea end of November.
What does this mean for SE QLD,
Hopefully not as much rain and mould as the previous years, hopefully some good waves.
Any answers.

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southey Saturday, 5 Oct 2013 at 1:29pm

Wellywon ,

My last post went further than alot of what would have been in the thread Carpetman wrote , so i condensed a lot of what would have been in there . And probably added a bit from another thread specifically on the IOD . The other thing was , that thread isn't surf specific and more so climate and Precipitation focused . As you may now be aware , i occasionally contribute to those WZ threads , and nearly always read what others update in there .

the acronyms are all :
Indian Ocean Dipole = IOD
El Nino Southern Oscillation = ENSO
Southern Annular Mode / Southern ( Atmospheric ) Angular Momentum = SAM
Antarctic (Atmospheric) Oscialltion = AAO
Indonesia Through Flow = ITF
Antarctic Circumpolar Wave = ACW
Sea Surface Temperatures = SST's
Long Wave Trough = LWT
South East Queensland = SE QLD ..... ;-)

As for that WZ forecast news article , The forecast is no real science . Currently at the moment we are slightly negative ( La Nina - side Neutral ) , and the whole reasoning behind their prediction is that "its been a while since the last big Nino " . Which theoretically is correct and they usually average 4-7 years apart , but in saying that as Carpetman hinted at we have currently turned into a Predominantly Negative PDO ( Pacific Decadal Oscillation ) period , in which fewer Nino's and less severe tend to prevail . In saying that the better students of all these influences that i know , are calling for a Nino next year . One guy is saying a severe one.

Its all very vague and realistically NO-ONE has come up with a certainty forecasting technique out beyond a few months . The other issue is that many climate scientists and their long term computer models have a tendency whenever there is uncertainty to call warmer / positive / El Nino 'ish forecasts . As it fits their agenda , or they don't have a good handle on the whole process yet .

As for waves for QLD . Well thats a week to week proposition , and probably has more to do with where the High pressure systems park i the Tasman and how strong they are. Of which is connected to all the above , but its not definable as of yet .

And wellymon , most of those acronyms and explanations will be Google able . So knock yourself out , there are explanations to all levels of understanding . and if you wanna go the whole nine yards , Google Chrome or Google Scholar will get you further ..
Have fun .

wellymon's picture
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wellymon Saturday, 5 Oct 2013 at 1:41pm

Cheers Southey,
Bit of down time at work today and tomorrow before going back home.
Might have to give myself an upper cut and read about some of thee above.

carpetman's picture
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carpetman Wednesday, 30 Oct 2013 at 3:30pm

Hey Southey,

I've been meaning to thank you for the knowledgeable reply! Thanks!

Complexity is not what I was hoping for but certainly what I expected. The patterns listed above and the knowledge thereof is obviously far above what is required to get a localized surf forecast. I hope this knowledge has helped you score some great waves because the amount of research that looks to be required to get a firm understanding is ALARMING! Arghhhhhh!

Anyway, hopefully I can knuckle down and get into the books.

Thanks Again!

donweather's picture
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donweather Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 at 6:09pm

Southey, would be very interested in your latest thoughts on the current weather patterns affecting the east coast. We seem to have gone from drought/fires to wet weather all in a matter of weeks. Changing patterns due to changing ENSO or perhaps maybe just due to the weak MJO stalling over the Maritime continent?

Craig's picture
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Craig Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 at 6:50pm

I'd say it's due to the MJO stalling across our region.

southey's picture
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southey Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 at 11:05pm

What Craig said . !

but if you dig a bit deeper , you'll find that the current phase of the MJO has probably had to do with this system . But the last has probably got more to do with A strong and fast build up due to lag of both a strong SAM season , coupled with a slight return of the Negative IOD , the ENSO still being Neutral and or coming out of slight Nina state . ( ie with exception of the coral sea the rest of Aust. is surrounded by warm anomaly SST's .)
The strong SAM causes higher/ faster rises in the top end build up and central / inland heat banking , but if coupled with a slight resurgent Negative IOD it means that the Top End wet / storm season arrives with a bang . This first incursion of the MJO and most likely coupled with a supporting upper atmosphere , will see FNQ cop it this week . The Monsoon is been given a real helping hand with some Cross equatorial flow , driven by the High consolidating over China and strong NE winds pushing down its eastern flank well into the far south china sea , and inturn switching through to NW at Equatorial crossing .
You could see this building up and advance from as far west as Sumatra in the last week or so and the strength of this together with the first solid pass of the MJO may see a strong WWB and perhaps trigger a Kelvin wave. Which will either push us into more Nino territory or if it continues to see similar stalling patterns, perhaps bring on the early rise of what many are predicting a strong La Nina next year .

In short , i reckon the Indian Ocean may have more bearing on this summer / wet than the Pacific .

southey's picture
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southey Wednesday, 20 Nov 2013 at 10:21pm

Craig .

I had a bit of time to look into what the MJO is doing . And whilst this showing to be in our sector , its barely in the " visible field " of the chart . And all models have it as un/indiscernable going forward .

So i'll change my inital agreeance and say that its most likely my second thought . Equatorial cross flow , and its driving force on the First Monsoon burst of the Austral summer . Could be better than what the ENSO is currently hinting at .

donweather's picture
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donweather Thursday, 21 Nov 2013 at 2:08pm
southey wrote:

Could be better than what the ENSO is currently hinting at .

My thoughts exactly!!!