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An Analysis of the Impact of the El Nino on Four Locations


One of the important aspects of a scientist's job is to look at the data that was collected and try to make sense of it in order to better understand natural phenomena. With the ENSO Student Research Campaign, we have a unique opportunity to analyze data and use the analysis to help us better understand the impact of the ENSO cycles on weather and climate in locations all around the world. 

I was looking at some of the data that many of our wonderful GLOBE teachers have sent during the ENSO campaign, and I noticed that we had data analyses sent to us from different locations during the height of the El Nino season last year. I thought it would be interesting to compare their data to the scientists' predictions.

The data analysis for January 2016 came from Cedar Grove ES students in Clarksburg, MD; SUNY undergraduate students in Fredonia, NY; high school students in Rijeka, Croatia; and high school students in Karlovac, Croatia. A huge shout out to Mladen Matvijev, Marina Pavlic, Mike Jabot, and Mari Hornyak

They had been looking at the precipitation and air temperature (high, average, and low) data in their locations for the month of January 2016, and comparing what they found to the climatic averages. 

Here is a map showing their locations:

This map shows the predications that were made by scientists for how precipitation and temperature across the globe might be impacted by the 2015-2016 El Nino conditions.  

https://www.climate.gov/sites/default/files/ElNinoDJF.jpg

Impacts of El Nino during Winter of 2015-2016

As we can see, the predictions for both temperature and precipitation for our four locations suggested that none of these schools would see any significant differences from their climatic norms. Next, we will look at the data and comparisons that these schools sent to us, and see if they experienced any differences from their climatic norms.

We will begin with the two schools in Croatia. These schools are about 90 km apart. Mladen Matvijev's school in Karlovac, Croatia found that for the month of January, 2016, they had a total of 86.1mm of precipitation, and the climatic average for his location was 74.7 mm. Therefore, they had an increase of 11.4 mm of precipitation, which is about a 15% increase in precipitation. They had three days in which record high temperatures were set on Jan. 26th (14.4 C), Jan. 27th (18.5 C), and Jan. 30th (14.0 C). The maximum temperature was above normal for 12/31 days. Their average temperatures were above normal for 28/31 days. In this location, it does appear that both the amount of precipitation and the temperatures were above normal for Jan. 2016. 

Marina's Pavlic's school is located in Rijeka, Croatia. For the month of January 2016, they had 131.7 mm of precipitation, which was 7.7 mm above the typical amount of precipitation for their school, which is 124 mm. Thus in this location, there was a slight increase, about 6%, of precipitation. They only had one record high temperature, which was set on Jan. 27th (13.9 C). Their average temperatures were above normal for 26/31 days, and were below normal for 5/31 days. In this location, they experienced slightly higher precipitation and higher average temperatures than normal.

Now we will head across the Atlantic Ocean to the US, and we will look at the same variables for two locations. Fredonia, NY is about 614 kilometers northwest of Clarksburg, MD. At SUNY University, Mike Jabot found that they had a total of 25.66 mm of precipitation, which was well below the average of 65 mm, meaning they had about 50% less precipitation than they usually get for January. The average daily temperatures were above normal for 19/31 days and were below normal for 10/31 days. No record high temperatures were set. Thus it appears that for Fredonia, the precipitation was below normal and the temperatures were above normal. 

In Clarksburg, MD, Mari Hornyak's students reported that they received 88.90 mm of precipitation, which was 11.43 mm above the normal amount. This is about 15% above the typical amount of precipitation for this location. The average temperatures were above normal for 13/31 days and below normal for 15/31 days, indicating that the temperatures didn't appear to change significantly from the typical temperatures for this time of year.

In conclusion, scientists had predicted that all of these locations would see significant changes in either precipitation or temperature during the 2015-2016 El Nino winter. While this appeared to be true for the two locations in the US, this was not the case for the two schools in Croatia. The schools in Croatia had more precipitation and warmer temperatures than usual.

I did some research to see what has already been learned about the impacts of El Nino around the world, and found a very interesting article entitled "Impact of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation on European climate" by S. Bronnimann which was published in August 2007. In this article, he states "The environmental, economical, and social impacts are tremendous. Consequently, large efforts have been undertaken in the past few years to understand and eventually forecast ENSO and its effects on global climate [e.g., Barnett et al., 1988; Chen et al., 2004]. While the effect in the Pacific area and the tropics has been thoroughly analyzed [Harrison and Larkin, 1998; Alexander et al., 2002; Diaz and Markgraf, 2000; Wang, 2004; Wang et al., 2004; McPhaden et al., 2006], the impacts on Europe are less well established. The interannual variability of atmospheric circulation over the Atlantic-European sector is large, which makes signal detection difficult. However, if ENSO does affect Europe, this might have important implications with respect to improving seasonal climate forecasts, as well as for our understanding of past climate variability and for assessing future climate scenarios."

While the results of this blog include only a small sampling of GLOBE schools and a small set of data, we can see that it is very possible to compare and contrast the climatic averages to the different types of data that we are collecting in an effort to gain a better understanding about the impacts of the ENSO cycle on our weather and climate. 

We would love to have more data and have students around the world do an analysis of the amount of precipitation they received during the winter of 2015-2016 while the El Nino was quite strong. To do this, they need to find out what the climatic averages for their location (or somewhere not too far from their school that has this data). A "climatic average" is data that has been collected for a period of thirty years, and has been divided over the period of time in which the data was collected. They can then compare the climatic averages with the data they collected during November, December, January, and February. 

Send us your data and we will include your findings in our ENSO blog! You can send your data to me at dorian.w.janney@nasa.gov. Yours in Science!  Dorian

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