ENSO Explanation written May 2020
The US Government’s National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) issues El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) report the second Thursday of every month. ENSO is a recurring climate pattern involving changes in the temperature of equatorial waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. This oscillating warming and cooling pattern, referred to as the ENSO cycle, directly affects rainfall distribution around the world. El Niño and La Niña are the extreme phases of the ENSO cycle; between these two phases is a third phase called ENSO-neutral.
ENSO affects Australian weather more so than any other crop area of the world and the Aussie government devotes much of its resources to track and report ENSO information twice a month.
I track ENSO reports. The following is the monthly summary from NOAA from August 2018 and my corresponding analysis of the same set of facts. I have found NOAA monthly reports are the most reliable 30 to 60 day forecast tool for world weather.
Predicting weather with accuracy is the key to predicting grain prices.
For more than 500 years, the world knew when millions of dead anchovies washed-up on the beaches of Ecuador and Peru, the world's weather was about to change, but no one knew why. The search for the "Holy Grail" of weather forecasting was to figure out why those anchovies died.
Fifty or so years ago, we learned the anchovies died due to a rapid change of the temperature of the Pacific water west of Peru. Research efforts then focused on what caused the water temperature to change and, more importantly, how to predict weather as a result of the temperature change.
The science of monitoring and evaluation of the wind direction and the temperature of the wind and surface water of the Equatorial Pacific and Indian Oceans is called EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO).
I have learned ENSO influences on weather is, by far, the most reliable long-term predictor of world weather. Of course nothing is 100% in this business; if it was, we all would be rich.
After decades of following ENSO data, I usually disagree with the professionals' weather predictions based upon ENSO data. I have learned the water temperature of the Pacific Ocean impacts Corn Belt weather far more than water temperature in the Indian Ocean or wind temperature and direction in either ocean.
There are three phases of ENSO, namely Neutral, El NIÑO and La NIÑA.
El NIÑO springs and summers bring cool and cloudy weather with above normal rainfall to the Corn Belt. In an El NIÑO year, the biggest risk to the corn crop is not getting it planted, but if the corn gets planted, the national average yield will most likely be a record large as improved technology and great growing weather allows the plant genetics to do their thing. Soybeans do not do as well as corn El NIÑO growing season as wet soil enhances fungi diseases.
The cool, cloudy weather will hinder maturity, harvest will be late and the corn will be wet. You need to price your price your corn early and your beans late in an El NIÑO growing season. Likewise, buy your propane early in such a year.
La NIÑA brings drought with above normal temperatures to the Corn Belt. The 1983, 1988, 2002 and 2012 Corn Belt droughts were La NIÑA years. La NIÑA episodes curtail Atlantic Ocean hurricanes. Note the 1980 Corn Belt drought was not caused by a La NIÑA episode. That drought was a result of Mt. St. Helen's eruption on 18 May 1980.
The longest El NIÑO was from the early summer of 1992 through the growing season of 1994. The 1992 and 1994 corn crops were record large yields, but 1993 was the flood year. Satellite photos in late June 1993 showed Lake Superior extended all the way to St. Louis. Record corn yields in 2004 and 2009 were a result of ever improving technology and El NIÑO episodes. Hurricanes in the Atlantic are usually more frequent during El NIÑO years, so you folks in the Southeast beware.
There are varying strengths of the ENSO episodes with varying degrees of impact. Australia is ground zero for the extremes of the ENSO episodes. Consequently, the Aussies dedicate a lot of resources to ENSO analysis. They issue an ENSO report twice a month and post it at:
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues their ENSO analysis the morning of the second Thursday of every month. It is usually five to six pages of the most complicated technical crap this side of the US government IRS tax code. The good news is, as a farmer, 90% of everything you need to know about ENSO is in the twelve-month graph of Equatorial Pacific water temperatures. The other 10% you need to know is NOAA's synopsis stated at the top of the first page of NOAA’s report. NOAA’s monthly report is at:
This is what watching ENSO data for decades have taught me:
If the water temperature is a half degree C below normal for 60 consecutive days, a La NIÑA episode has already begun.
Rapidly falling water temperatures will bring La NIÑA like weather for a few weeks.
If the water temperature is a half degree C above normal for 60 consecutive days, an El NIÑO episode has already begun.
Rapidly rising water temperatures will bring El NIÑO like weather for a few weeks.
The way I keep the two extremes straight is to associate cool water with low evaporation rates, which will keep the air moving northeast to the Corn Belt drier than normal, hence less rainfall. Whereas, warmer than normal water will evaporate at a higher rate and put more water in the air to move across the Corn Belt. More water in the air means more clouds and rain. The NOAA ENSO update issued May 14, 2020 was summarized by the professional weather people this way:
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) Synopsis: There is a ~65% chance of ENSO-neutral during Northern Hemisphere summer 2020, with chances decreasing through the autumn (to 45-50%).
The water temperature chart that date:
My comments for that date were: Dry weather is coming to the Corn Belt after mostly normal weather for the next two to three weeks because the water temperature is falling so rapidly. I know that is not a highly complex explanation, but that is all you need to know.
Note the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has eight computer models to track ENSO changes. In March, two of those eight models predicted a La Nina episode this late spring and early summer. Since then, three of the eight models predict a La Nina, which, once again, brings hot and dry weather to the Corn Belt… think 2012, 2008, 1988 and 1983… The similarities between this spring and the spring of 1988 are quite surprising.
This information is not for you to base your market plan for 2020 on a drought, but it does mean, more than normal, you need to have a plan if prices go sharply higher after you price corn and beans.
By the way, here is the water temperature chart from Mar 2019. Note the water temperature was more than a half degree C above normal for more than 60 days, which is my definition of an EL NIÑO episode. As a grain market person, you should be able to take a glance at a chart like this and say to yourself, “It is going to be a wet spring!” and adjust your spring operational plan accordingly:
As you may recall, 2019 was a “little” wetter than normal. You can also see wet fall of 2018 was quite predicable from mid to late summer that year.
Impact of ENSO stages around the world are:
Wet & cool:
Southern Brazil and Argentina
Black Sea Area (Eastern Europe)
Drier and warmer:
Central and Northern Brazil
Wet and cool:
Central and Northern Brazil
China, wet & cool in the southeast area with many typhoons; hot & dry in the northeast area.
Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia (palm oil areas) wet and cool.
Warmer and drier than normal:
Southern Brazil and Argentina
Black Sea Area (Eastern Europe)
The following pages are the month-by-month ENSO reports with NOAA’s official statement followed by Roger’s comments.
The purpose of this presentation is to present the evidence to you why following ENSO updates is valuable.
NOAA issued its ENSO update yesterday. Their official statement: ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch
Synopsis: There is ~60% chance of El Niño in the Northern Hemisphere fall 2018 (September-November), increasing to ~70% during winter 2018-19.
The chart of surface temperatures of the Equatorial Pacific Ocean shows a more than half degree C above normal temperature continued during the month of July. That means we (Corn Belt people) will continue to see above normal rainfall until that water temperature begins a sharp decline or slowly returns to normal.
The EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC DISCUSSION was issued this morning issued by the CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Their official statement:
ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch
Synopsis: There is a 50-55% chance of El Niño onset during the Northern Hemisphere fall 2018 (September-November), increasing to 65-70% during winter 2018-19.
There are presently 8 tropical depressions, storms or hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Typically, during an El Nino episode, there are very few tropical storms. I would not have been surprised to see the surface water temperature of the Equatorial Pacific decline in recent weeks, but, as you can see in the chart below, it has not.
One must conclude that above normal rainfall will continue in much of the Corn Belt, especially the Eastern Corn Belt, into the fall.
October 2018 NOAA's Official Statement ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch
Synopsis: El Niño is favored to form in the next couple of months and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2018-19 (70-75% chance).
The graph of Equatorial Pacific Surface Water Temperatures Deviation from Normal:
The graph shows the water temperature increased almost a half degree C during the month of September and is now 1.35 degrees C above normal. That will cause a very serious series of unusual weather events around the world. We already have drought in Australia, dry weather in Eastern Europe and wet weather in Western Europe and the Corn Belt. Now you can see why rainfall increased the past month in the Upper Midwest. It will probably continue through harvest in the US.
The probability of weather problems boosting corn, wheat and soybean prices in the next few months just increased by five-fold. Why?
In the old days, before we so politically correct, the weather people employed by government would pointedly state that an El Nino Episode was officially in effect when the Pacific Equatorial water temperature was a half degree C above normal for 60 consecutive days. We have had that aberration since early April (look at the chart!). Now the water temperature aberration is twice the magnitude it was all summer. Likewise, the unusual weather around the world will be much more extreme. Did anyone besides me notice the weather in September got more unusual in many places around the world? Fasten your seat belts!
Now that we are politically correct, government officials will not say anything to hurt your precious ego or cause you stress. We have had an El Nino all summer and now it’s going to get a lot more severe. That means drier than normal in Brazil and wetter than normal in Argentina. The dry weather in Eastern Europe and Australia will get worse.
Last winter's La Nina (the opposite of El Nino) made Brazil wet and Argentina dry. It is highly likely Brazil will be dry and Argentina and Paraguay will be wet in the coming months and, that Ladies and Gentlemen, is where nearly almost two-thirds of the world's soybeans are grown (about 63%). Wheat markets will also benefit as world-wide weather anomalies will impact wheat crops everywhere and, in most places, not for good.
The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) released its monthly EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) report this morning. Their official statement:
CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society 8 November 2018
ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch
Synopsis: El Niño is expected to form and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2018-19 (~80% chance) and into spring (55-60% chance).
The graph of Equatorial Pacific water surface temperatures:
Given that one-half degree C above normal for 60 consecutive days used to be generally accepted as confirmation of an El Nino Episode, the graph shows the water temperature is about three times above normal, having increased about seven-tenths of a degree in the past 60 days. Of course, the greater amount above average the temperature, the stronger the El Nino, causing stronger weather abnormalities than a weaker El Nino. There will be an unusual number of storms moving from the Pacific into Southern California straight east to the Texas Gulf Coast and follow the coast to the Atlantic Coast where the storms will track northeast up the coast bringing a excessive rain, perhaps ice and certainly snow. The storms will move into the North Atlantic below the Arctic Circle and head east toward Merry Old England.
Generally, a winter El Nino brings the Corn Belt mild temperatures and more than normal clouds with average to above average rainfall, usually in the form of persistent sprinkle to moderate showers. For those folks with crops still in the field, this is not good news.
Two days ago was the first report of dry weather hurting some Brazilian beans in Parana and today’s news included dry weather in Paraguay hurting their bean crop and excess rain in Argentina causing serious wheat harvest problems and hurting some beans. Last year’s La Nina caused above normal rain in Brazil and drought in Argentina. The current El Nino episode should cause the opposite results and the adverse weather pattern has begun.
An El Nino episode occurs after 60 consecutive days of the Equatorial Pacific surface has been a half degree or more above normal. Except for 1993 (the Corn Belt flood year), every El Nino summer (northern hemisphere) has resulted in a record corn yield.
A La Nina episode occurs after 60 consecutive days of the Equatorial Pacific surface has been a half degree or more below normal. Every La Nina summer (northern hemisphere) resulted in sharply reduced corn yields.
This morning’s report from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society issued this official statement:
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC 13 December 2018
ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch
Synopsis: El Niño is expected to form and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2018-19 (~90% chance) and through spring (~60% chance).
The chart of surface water temperature for the equatorial Pacific Ocean:
Although the water temperature declined during November, it was still more than 1.2 degrees C above normal. This information is more important as to the direction of bean and corn prices over the next few months than anything else going on because it could drastically reduce South American production. As of this morning, Mato Grosso du Sul and Paraguay are expected to have very little rain the next two weeks.
The monthly EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) report from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) was issued this morning.
Their official statement:
Synopsis: El Niño is expected to form and continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2019 (~65% chance). ENSO-neutral continued during December 2018, despite widespread above-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) across the equatorial Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1). In the last couple of weeks, all four Niño indices decreased.
The chart of the surface water temperature compared to normal:
Roger’s Comment: NOAA is saying there is less of a chance of El Nino forming in the coming months than they were stating one and two months ago.
I have said and I am still saying we have an El Nino episode now, but it is weakening. That means the possibility of a wet spring in the Corn Belt is diminished, but El Nino will continue to dominate the world weather for the next month or two. If so, dry weather will continue for the next month in Brazil and wet weather will continue in Argentina.
NOAA issued its monthly ENSO update on the 14th. Their official statement:
ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory
Synopsis: Weak El Niño conditions are present and are expected to continue through the Northern
Hemisphere spring 2019 (~55% chance).
Last month, NOAA was saying there was a 65% chance of El Niño would form and continue through the spring. Despite only 55% this month, the media is jumping on the El Niño bandwagon, making it a major story.
Here is the chart of the deviation from normal of Pacific Equatorial Ocean surface temperatures through first few days of February:
Before the days of political correctness, anytime the Pacific Equatorial Ocean surface water temperature was a half degree C or more above normal for 60 consecutive days, NOAA said we were in an El Niño episode. El Niño episodes cause warmer and drier than normal weather in Central and Northern Brazil and wetter than normal weather in Argentina and extreme Southern Brazil, which is straight east of Argentina.
While weather prediction is certainly not an exact science, generally speaking, when the Pacific surface water temperature is declining, even when more than half a degree C above normal, the weather conditions tend to create the opposite weather conditions (La Nina) around the world thirty or so days later. That would explain the colder than normal conditions in the Corn Belt during January and the first half of February and a return to more a normal rainfall pattern and temperatures in both Argentina and Brazil the past month.
The kicker in the above chart is the surface water temperature has been rising since mid-January. That indicates we will see a return to warmer and drier conditions in Brazil and cooler and wetter conditions in Argentina within a week or two or three. Since the Brazilian bean crop is pretty well made, drier and warmer weather will aid bean harvest, but hurt their Safrinha corn (second crop) being planted this month.
As far the Corn Belt goes, with surface water temperatures a full degree C above normal, we could reasonably see a warming pattern for a three to four weeks followed by a cooler and wetter than normal spring if the surface water temperature remains that much above normal for another 45 days or more.
Southern California receives a lot of rain during an El Niño episode. Las Angeles has received four inches of rain this month and San Diego has received ten inches. Australia is particularly affected by abnormal ENSO aberrations. After two consecutive years of wheat crops about half of normal due to La Nina in 2017 and El Niño in 2018, their farmers need a decent weather year. However, it does not look like they will get one in 2019.
It looks to be a wet spring. The next 6 to 10 days sees above normal rainfall west of a line from Chicago to Mobile, Alabama to the West Coast with the most rainfall in the Great Plains and California. The planting of corn will be a struggle at best this spring. Not only did most of the fall application of fertilizer and tillage not happen, the soil is much colder than normal and there is snow, ice or excessive water on farmland from Louisiana to Canada and from the Rocky Mountains to Philadelphia. And then we get the ENSO monthly update last Thursday:
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) Diagnostic: ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory
Synopsis: Weak El Niño conditions are likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2019 (~80% chance) and summer (~60% chance).
El Niño conditions strengthened during February 2019, as above-average sea surface temperatures increased across the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the associated atmospheric anomalies became increasingly well-defined.
This chart is the Equatorial Pacific surface temperature variance for the past twelve months:
The old-timers’ definition of an El Niño episode is 60 consecutive days of the water temperature more than half a degree C above normal. As you can see, water temperature increased about half degree in February and is now 1.5 degrees C above normal and has been a half degree or more above normal for eleven months now. Has anybody noticed it was a little wet in the Corn Belt since last spring? It is looking wetter in 2019 if the water temperature stays near where it is now. Weather pattern will change within about 30 days following a substantial change in the water temperature.
El Niño episodes cause above normal rainfall in the Corn Belt and stormy weather from California across the Southern US to the Atlantic where the storms turn northeast up the coast.
The biggest threat to the nation’s corn crop in an El Nino year is not getting it planted. But if the corn gets planted, cooler than normal temperatures and above normal rainfall during the growing season will produce record or near record yields if it is not too wet such as 1993.
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC DISCUSSION issued by CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society
ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory
Synopsis: A weak El Niño is likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer 2019 (65% chance) and possibly fall (50-55% chance).
The graph of Pacific equatorial water temperature shows the temperature declined about .25 degrees C in March, but, is still nearly 1.2 degrees above normal and well above the threshold of half a degree C to maintain the El Nino Episode. The decline of the temperature from any level often provides the Corn Belt with drier weather, so we may get a very nice window for planting corn, especially if the water temperature continues to decline.
On April 2nd, the Australian Meteorology Bureau reported, “The ENSO outlook remains at El Niño ALERT. This means the chance of El Niño developing in 2019 is approximately 70%; around triple the normal likelihood. Tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have remained close to El Niño thresholds for the past five weeks. The atmosphere has responded to the surface warmth at times, but is yet to show a consistent El Niño-like response. For example, trade winds have varied between weaker-than-average and average strength.
Most international climate models predict tropical Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures will remain at El Niño levels at least to mid-year. This would increase the likelihood of the tropical Pacific atmosphere and ocean reinforcing each other, and developing into a full El Niño, with the resultant changes in Australian and global weather patterns. Predictions made at this time of year have lower accuracy than those made in winter or spring and should be used with some caution.
On April 30th, Australia’s Meteorology Bureau of Meteorology issued its ENSO update:
Outlooks Indicate Short-Lived El Niño Likely
The Bureau's ENSO Outlook remains at El Niño ALERT. This means the chance of El Niño developing in 2019 is approximately 70%. Climate models indicate that if El Niño does develop it is likely to be short-lived.
Although the surface of the tropical Pacific Ocean remains warmer than average, water below the surface of the ocean has been gradually cooling. A cooling of water at depth can lead to a cooling of the ocean surface, which may reduce the length of an event if one develops. Most climate models indicate surface warmth in the Pacific Ocean will remain at El Niño-like levels at least through May. The longer the ocean surface warmth remains, the more likely it is that the atmosphere will respond, and El Niño will develop.
If El Niño does develop in May, it's likely to be short lived, with most models indicating that the ocean will likely cool through winter and spring (Southern Hemiphere!). Four of the eight surveyed models return to neutral by September, and the other four indicate weak El Niño levels.
My translation of the above statement from the Australian Meteorology Bureau: A greater chance now than a month ago of wet spring in the US South and Midwest followed by a dry summer.
NOAA issued its monthly ENSO update yesterday. Their Official Statement:
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC DISCUSSION issued by
CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society 9 May 2019
ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory Synopsis: El Niño is likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer 2019 (70% chance) and fall (55-60% chance). During April, above-average sea surface
temperatures (SSTs) persisted, reflecting the ongoing El Niño.
Here is the chart for the Equatorial Pacific surface water temperature:
I disagree with the NOAA experts. With water temperature in such a steep decline, whatever weather you have been having the past month, soon, certainly in June and probably before June, you will have the opposite. For the Corn Belt, that means above normal temperatures and below normal rainfall. It may only last a month, but changes are coming.
Don't be muddin' in those crops!
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Issued its monthly update June 13th and it was inconclusive to me (and them) about what weather to expect in July. Their official statement:
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/
NWS and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society 13 June 2019
ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory
Synopsis: El Niño is predicted to persist through the Northern Hemisphere summer 2019 (66% chance), with lower odds of continuing through the fall and winter (50-55% chance).
The chart of water temperatures:
When the water temperature is falling rapidly, that indicates drier than normal weather for the Corn Belt 30 or so days out. When temperatures are rising rapidly, that indicates wetter than normal moisture for the Corn Belt for 30 days out or so.
Was the drier 10 to 14 days in much of the Corn Belt that just ended a few days ago the result of rapidly falling water temperature in April and first week of May? I think yes.
Is the sudden turn to much above normal rainfall in the coming week to ten days the result of the rising water temperatures since middle of May? Probably. With little confidence, I predicted the Corn Belt and Southern US are in for wet weather the rest of June and probably into at least the first part of July. If the water temperature continues to rise... absolutely it will be wet. The next ENSO update will be issued July 11th.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued their latest update today: Oceanic and atmospheric indicators are now largely at ENSO-neutral levels. Tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have cooled over the past fortnight but remain slightly warmer than average. Cloudiness near the Date Line and trade winds have been close to neutral over recent weeks, while the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) has hovered around El Niño threshold values over the past month. With little anomalous warmth in the ocean sub-surface, most climate models indicate the tropical Pacific will continue shifting further away from El Niño thresholds through the winter.
The Aussie’s are saying the water temperature has cooled the past two weeks, but they do not state how much, so it is more difficult for me to make a prediction, However, if the water temperature has cooled, that means a drier weather pattern, probably a close more normal amount of rainfall the next four weeks for the Corn Belt and Southeastern US.