, Volume 22, Issue 8, pp 839-855
Date: 12 May 2004

The preconditioning role of Tropical Atlantic Variability in the development of the ENSO teleconnection: implications for the prediction of Nordeste rainfall

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Abstract

A comparison of rainfall variability in the semi-arid Brazilian Nordeste in observations and in two sets of model simulations leads to the conclusion that the evolving interaction between Tropical Atlantic Variability (TAV) and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon can explain two puzzling features of ENSO’s impact on the Nordeste: (1) the event-to-event unpredictability of ENSO’s impact; (2) the greater impact of cold rather than warm ENSO events during the past 50 years. The explanation is in the ‘preconditioning’ role of Tropical Atlantic Variability. When, in seasons prior to the mature phase of ENSO, the tropical Atlantic happens to be evolving consistently with the development expected of the ENSO teleconnection, ENSO and TAV add up to force large anomalies in Nordeste rainfall. When it happens to be evolving in opposition to the canonical development of ENSO, then the net outcome is less obvious, but also less anomalous. The more frequent occurrence of tropical Atlantic conditions consistent with those that develop during a cold ENSO event, i.e. of a negative meridional sea surface temperature gradient, explains the weaker warm ENSO and stronger cold ENSO anomalies in Nordeste rainfall of the latter part of the twentieth century. Close monitoring of the evolution of the tropical Atlantic in seasons prior to the mature phase of ENSO should lead to an enhanced forecast potential.