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The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is a standardized index based on the observed sea level pressure differences between Tahiti and Darwin, Australia.

The SOI is a leading measure of the large-scale fluctuations in air pressure occurring between the western and eastern tropical Pacific (i.e., the state of the Southern Oscillation) during El Niño and La Niña episodes.

In general, smoothed time series of the SOI correspond very well with changes in ocean temperatures across the eastern tropical Pacific. The negative phase of the SOI represents below-normal air pressure at Tahiti and above-normal air pressure at Darwin. The positive phase of the SOI represents above-normal air pressure at Tahiti and below-normal air pressure at Darwin.

Prolonged periods of negative SOI values coincide with abnormally warm ocean waters across the eastern tropical Pacific typical of El Niño episodes. In contrast, prolonged periods of positive SOI values coincide with abnormally cold ocean waters across the eastern tropical Pacific typical of La Niña episodes. Sustained negative values of the SOI below −8 often indicate El Niño episodes.These negative values are usually accompanied by sustained warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, a decrease in the strength of the Pacific Trade Winds.

Sustained positive values of the SOI above +8 are typical of a La Niña episode.They are associated with stronger Pacific trade winds and warmer sea temperatures to the north of Australia. Waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become cooler during this time.

The graph below ( from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, BOM) shows monthly values of the SOI from 1880 to November 2018.

The BOM says that surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean have warmed to El Niño levels over the past fortnight. However, atmospheric indicators of El Niño are largely near normal, suggesting that the ocean and atmosphere are not yet reinforcing each other, or 'coupled'. This reinforcement is critical in any El Niño developing and becoming self-sustaining.

International climate models suggest further warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean is likely, increasing the possibility of coupling occurring in the coming months. Seven out of eight climate models suggests sea surface temperatures will remain above El Niño thresholds until at least March 2019.

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently neutral. While the tropical Pacific Ocean has cooled in the past month, most international climate models forecast warming to resume in the coming weeks, with El Niño development possible in the Southern Hemisphere spring. Therefore, the Bureau's ENSO Outlook remains at El Niño WATCH. El Niño WATCH means there is approximately a 50% chance of El Niño forming in 2018; double the normal chance.

El Nino and La Nina weather affects over New Zealand (source Niwa)

During El Niño, New Zealand tends to experience stronger or more frequent winds from the west in summer, typically leading to drought in east coast areas and more rain in the west.

In winter, the winds tend to be more from the south, bringing colder conditions to both the land and the surrounding ocean.

In spring and autumn south–westerly winds are more common.

La Niña events have different impacts on New Zealand's climate. More north–easterly winds are characteristic, which tend to bring moist, rainy conditions to the north–east of the North Island, and reduced rainfall to the south and south–west of the South Island.

Therefore, some areas, such as central Otago and South Canterbury, can experience drought in both El Niño and La Niña.

Warmer than normal temperatures typically occur over much of the country during La Niña, although there are regional and seasonal exceptions.

Although ENSO events have an important influence on New Zealand's climate, it accounts for less than 25 per cent of the year to year variance in seasonal rainfall and temperature at most New Zealand measurement sites.

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The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: 'I don't intend to publish, I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.' 'Don't you think God knows the facts?' Bethe asked. 'Yes' said Szilard. ‘He knows the facts, but he does not know THIS version of the facts'

"(From Hans Christian von Baeyer, "Taming the Atom" (from the preface paragraph in "A Short History of Nearly Everything", by Bill Bryson, A Black Swan Book, 2004)

For further information see: https://sites.google.com/site/climatediceandthebutterfly/

Weather Eye
with John Maunder