Friday, January 23, 2015

Ain’t no Nino


Things on my ‘Love’ list include, women, markets and weather. Maybe I’m drawn to these because they are all unpredictable. I hope I never get to the point where women become predictable (no fun in that). I know that markets will always produce surprises (US ten-year at 1.8%, while GDP hits 5%?….And things like the SNB fail).  And it brings me a bit of pleasure to see that the best and brightest weather folks actually don’t have a clue what will happen next.

I follow what the scientists are reporting for ENSO values on a weekly basis. ENSO is a numerical index that establishes if the Pacific Ocean is either in El Nino, or La Nina conditions. Basically, if the number is high, we have El Nino, if it is low, La Nina conditions exist. There is a zone in the middle where neither condition exists.


The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology publishes data every other week. The US equivalent, NOAA, has a similar release. Last July almost all of the deep thinkers (and their computers) were anticipating that we would be experiencing El Nino conditions today. From NOAA:


Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.52.16 PM 

In October, 2014 NOAA was stilling hanging its hat with a forecast that an El Nino was right around the corner:




Sorry computers, it did not happen. As of Monday the Aussies have thrown in the towel. There will be no El Nino during the winter of 2015:




Does it matter if there is to be no El Nino? It matters a great deal to 50+ million people. El Nino brings rain to the US Pacific South, La Nina brings drought conditions:


Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 9.15.05 AM



For a few weeks in December the ENSO numbers got above the level where El Nino conditions start to be felt (but not for the 3 months of average data required for an ‘official’ El Nin0).  Guess what happened? It rained like crazy!





But today the ENSO numbers are back below El Nino thresholds. Guess What? It stopped raining out west.





The US West will survive another year of drought. It will be tough on agriculture, but, for the most part, residents will have uninterrupted supplies of potable water. But that is not the case in Brazil. The ENSO cycle has the same consequence on parts of Brazil as it does in the US West. The State of Sao Paulo is now in severe drought. The shortage of water is becoming acute. The availability of water for food production, hydro power, cooking, bathing and sanitary use is now at risk. Twenty million people are facing a very real problem:







 January is the rainy season for this part of Brazil. That has not been the case so far in 2015:


the weather channel

11 million people live in the city of Sao Paulo, 44 million live in the State of Sao Paulo. Los Angeles has a population of 11 million, The State of California has 38 million.  The State of Sao Paulo is 1/3 of Brazil’s GDP – about $3/4 Trillion.

Either it rains in Brazil – soon – or there will be big problems in six-months.


Note: Periods where ENSO readings are Negative/Neutral (no rain) are common. The duration of the cycles drives the extremes. NOAA has data back to 1950 (El Nino is as old as the oceans). There are  periods where there was no El Nino for four consecutive years – 1959-63, 1978-82, 1998 -2002. The last El Nino was in 2010. This means that the current No Nino period will extend well into its 5th year. Have we passed the tipping point for Brazil? We’ll know in a few months.



City of Sao Paulo



 Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 11.49.36 AM










  1. If Gazelles need water and grass
    and Cheetahs need water and Gazelles
    and an abundance of sustenance leads to more Gazelles
    should more Gazelles and water lead to more Cheetahs?

    If too many Gazelles relative to water and grass lead to fewer Gazelles
    do fewer Gazelles = fewer Cheetahs?

    If water was money and grass was credit
    and Cheetahs and Gazelles were people
    who would be who?

    If need is sustenance and a temperate climate
    should you not do what you don’t want done to you
    unless you need to?
    “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.

    Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio.”

    Thomas Robert Malthus
    Suggested populations could increase faster than food supplies

  2. Excellent piece Bruce. As a pilot I’m never to far away from weather, climate and forecasts. In the tropics weather is very tricky and unpredictable. The climate, in the tropics is not unpredictable, however. What I have found in the last thirty years of flying is that an El Nino happens when the trade winds (sea breeze) weaken substantially in the Northern Hemisphere, off the coast of Mexico. This occurrence leads to hurricanes striking the coast of Mexico between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. In the Northern Pacific the upper level jet streams generally drift southward in winter bringing storms into California. However, this pattern is NOT usual, by that I mean that the Northern Hemisphere jet stream tends to be variable in location and speed. This is caused by the presence of land masses that heat (and cool)more unevenly than the surrounding oceans. Southern Hemisphere jet streams tend to be more predictable and stronger than their northern brothers. The result is that an El Nino does not necessarily bring rain into California, because the sea breeze off the coast of Mexico must weaken substantially in the summer preceding the event (to warm the waters of the Pacific between Mexico and Hawaii. This years event was centered primarily over the central Pacific where the weaker sea breeze brought hurricanes within ear shot of Hawaii for the first time in a generation.

    Sao Paulo, Brazill has a different problem, similar, in my opinion to, Las Vegas with Lake Mead. Consumption of water follows a Hurst exponent whereby increases in capacity lead to over consumption (in essence a ‘water’ bubble. Water consumption is the first case of human speculative behavior, but with more dire consequences). Hurst discovered this facet of hydrology while consulting for the Egyptian dam projects back in the 1950’s. His formula is used for fractal analysis of all bubbles now and I believe can be used for more esoteric endeavors, such as discovery of extra terrestrial life. In the case of Sao Paulo, California’s behavior can lead the way to curb water over consumption. Make no mistake about it, the water capacity for all of southern Brazil was exceeded, at least, 25 years ago and the end of the drought is not going to fix the problem. I think a graph of the water level of the Brazilian dams will tailor very closely to the one displayed of Lake Mead earlier this summer by zerohedge.

  3. Obama bin Biden says:

    “Things on my ‘Love’ list include, women, markets and weather.”

    What happened to graffiti, Bruce? You don’t love it anymore or is it no longer unpredictable?