Were 2014 El Nino Predictions a Bust?

Were 2014 El Nino Predictions a Bust?

Weather forecasters and climatologists keep up with what is written on various news sites, blogs and social media, according to Michelle L’Heureux, a climate scientist with NOAA. That includes hearing criticisms, she says.

“As of late, we have noticed that there has been some chatter about how the models were wrong about the prediction of El Niño during 2014,” she says.

But is this true? L’Heureux says the answer may surprise you.

She started by looking at ENSO model predictions last year (purple), superimposed with what actually happened in 2014 (black).


“The black line stays within the range of the purple lines, meaning the observations were generally within the envelope of what all these models were predicting,” L’Heureux says. “In multi-model and ensemble prediction, one measure of success is whether observed reality occurs within this model envelope.”

Last year was either the worst possible year to start an ENSO blog – or the best, L’Heureux adds.

“Most folks on our team consider this among the trickiest forecasts we have ever been a part of,” she says. “Such a borderline El Niño is a challenge, and one we are still trying to communicate.”

At the beginning of 2014, the possibility of a major El Niño was just that – a possibility, L’Heureux concludes. Forecasters couldn’t rule out a strong El Niño early on, even if it wasn’t the most likely outcome. And ENSO prediction comes with a large range of possible outcomes, which is why forecasters try and express this uncertainty by assigning a percentage chance of El Niño developing.

To learn more about the ENSO, or the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, visit here.

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3/21/2015 08:00 AM

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