Journal article Open Access

Indices of El Niño Evolution

Trenberth, Kevin E.; Stepaniak, David P.

To characterize the nature of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in different regions of the Pacific have been used. An optimal characterization of both the distinct character and the evolution of each El Niño or La Niña event is suggested that requires at least two indices: (i) SST anomalies in the Niño-3.4 region (referred to as N3.4), and (ii) a new index termed here the Trans-Niño Index (TNI), which is given by the difference in normalized anomalies of SST between Niño-1+2 and Niño-4 regions. The first index can be thought of as the mean SST throughout the equatorial Pacific east of the date line and the second index is the gradient in SST across the same region. Consequently, they are approximately orthogonal. TNI leads N3.4 by 3 to 12 months prior to the climate shift in 1976/77 and also follows N3.4 but with opposite sign 3 to 12 months later. However, after 1976/77, the sign of the TNI leads and lags are reversed. Corresponding author address: Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307.

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