ENSO influence over the Pacific North American sector: uncertainty due to atmospheric internal variability

Hosmay Lopez, Ben P. Kirtman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The relative influence of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forced response versus internally generated atmospheric variability or noise on the upper tropospheric Pacific North American circulation is investigated. The analysis is performed on the boreal winter (December–January–February) 200 hPa circulation and the associated precipitation based on observational records and modeling experiments. The model experiment includes an ocean eddy-resolving coupled general circulation model (CGCM) and an atmospheric noise reduced ocean eddy-resolving CGCM. The noise reduction technique is the interactive ensemble approach, adopted to reduce the effects of internal atmospheric dynamics noise at the air-sea interface. Tropical rainfall anomalies associated with ENSO forces a teleconnection pattern that is a combination of the so-called Pacific North American (PNA) pattern, themed here as state-dependent atmospheric noise, and a pattern distinct from the PNA, themed here as ENSO-signal. The ENSO signal has a meridional structure in the streamfunction associated with significant poleward Rossby wave flux emanating from the eastern Pacific. Conversely, the PNA teleconnection pattern is zonally oriented, with most of the wave flux in the zonal direction from the Pacific towards North America. The mid-latitude ENSO forced response is asymmetric between warm and cold events. This asymmetry is strongly dependent on the amplitude of atmospheric noise. It is shown that the ENSO forced response is masked by atmospheric noise, with the latter being 3–10 times larger in amplitude. We show that the PNA pattern was positive during the 2015–2016 boreal winter and prevented the large 2015–2016 El Niño event from alleviating the persistent drought in the western US.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6149-6172
Number of pages24
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - May 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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