Possible Breakthrough in El Niño Forecasting

Could forecast a year in advance

An ocean buoy.     Photo: Kevitivity/Flickr

An international team of meteorologists announced Monday that they've discovered a new way to forecast El Niño a year ahead of time, doubling the current lead team experts have. According to the research team, the new forecasting method should only cause false alarms 10 percent of the time.

"We study how the various locations in the Pacific are linked and how the links between them change with time," the lead researchers told USA TODAY.

The new model incorporates data from 1950 to 2011 showing that weather patterns were predicted by a ripple of rising temperatures through the El Nino "basin" of the Pacific Ocean. The team then builds forecasts soley from temperature data, without using weather models.

Outside researchers remain cautious about the findings. "I'm very skeptical. I don't think this is a breakthrough," El Niño forecaster Anthony Barnston of Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society told USA TODAY. "Look hard enough for a connection between past temperature numbers and weather patterns and some link will turn up, Barnston said. "But that is just a statistical game without any physics behind it that will turn out sooner or later not to work."

Comments