Springtime ENSO Flavors and Their Impacts on US Regional Tornado Outbreaks

Tuesday, 15 December 2015: 15:25
3005 (Moscone West)
Sang-Ki Lee1, Andrew Thorne Wittenberg2, David B Enfield1, Scott J Weaver3, Chunzai Wang4 and Robert M Atlas4, (1)University of Miami, Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, Miami, FL, United States, (2)Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, NJ, United States, (3)Environmental Defense Fund DC, Washington, DC, United States, (4)NOAA Miami, Miami, FL, United States
A new method is presented to objectively characterize and explore the differences in the space-time evolution of equatorial Pacific SSTAs observed during El Nino events. An application of this method to the 21 El Nino events during 1949-2013 captured two leading orthogonal modes, which explain more than 60% of the inter-event variance. The first mode distinguishes a strong and persistent El Nino from a weak and early-terminating El Niño. A similar analysis applied to the 22 La Nina events during 1949-2013 also revealed two leading orthogonal modes, with its first mode distinguishing a resurgent La Nina from a transitioning La Nina. This study shows that the four main phases of springtime El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) evolution (persistent versus early-terminating El Nino, and resurgent versus transitioning La Nina) are linked to distinctive spatial patterns of the probability of U.S. regional tornado outbreaks. In particular, the outbreak probability increases significantly up to 27% over the Ohio Valley, Upper Midwest and Southeast when a La Nina persists into the spring and is followed by another La Nina (i.e., resurgent La Nina). The probability also increases significantly up to 38%, but mainly in the South, when a two-year La Nina transitions to an El Nino (i.e., transitioning La Nna). These changes in outbreak probability are shown to be largely consistent with remotely forced regional changes in the large-scale tropospheric circulation, low-level vertical wind shear, moisture transports and extratropical storm activity.