Climate Dynamics

, Volume 22, Issue 8, pp 839–855 | Cite as

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

  • A. Giannini
  • R. Saravanan
  • P. Chang


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.


ENSO Event Atlantic SSTs ENSO Teleconnection Warm ENSO Cold ENSO 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Dr. Link Ji for assistance with the integration of CCM3. AG was supported by an NCAR Advanced Study Program Post-doctoral Fellowship, by NASA’s Seasonal to Interannual Prediction Project through Interagency Agreement W-19,750 and by NOAA through Grant NA16GP1575. PC was supported by NOAA and NSF through research grants NA16GP1572, ATM-99007625 and ATM-0337846. PC also acknowledges the support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) through Grant 40128003. AG would like to thank Clara Deser for many fruitful discussions and for her continued encouragement. The National Center for Atmospheric Research is operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research under sponsorship of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag  2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of OceanographyTexas A and M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  3. 3.International Research Institute for Climate PredictionPalisadesUSA

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