National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

How the July 2014 easterly wind burst gave the 2015-6 El Niño a head start

Levine, A.F.Z., and M.J. McPhaden

Geophys. Res. Lett., 43(12), 6503–6510, doi: 10.1002/2016GL069204 (2016)

Following strong westerly wind bursts in boreal winter and spring of 2014, both the scientific community and the popular press were abuzz with the possibility of a major El Niño developing. However, during the boreal summer of 2014, the Bjerknes feedback failed to kick in, aided and abetted by a strong easterly wind burst. The widely anticipated major 2014–2015 El Niño event failed to materialize and even failed to qualify as an El Niño by conventional definitions. However, the boreal summer easterly wind burst had the effect of not only inhibiting the growth of the El Niño event but also preventing and then reversing the discharge of the equatorial heat content that typically occurs during the course of an El Niño event. This head start of equatorial heat content helped push the 2015–2016 El Niño event to extreme magnitude.

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