Note: updated graphs are included in the ENSO page accessible at the top of this page.
The current El Niño that started in 2015 appears to have peaked and to be slowly declining now as can be seen in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Multivariate ENSO Index comparison for 1997-98 versus 2015-16.
This figure compares the Multivariate El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Index (MEI) provided by the US National Atmospheric and Ocean Administration (NOAA) for the current 2015-16 El Niño versus the 1997-98 El Niño. Since the satellite global temperature estimates typically show the largest response to El Niño events, global estimates of the temperature of the lower troposphere (TLT) estimates from Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) and the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) are presented in Figures 1 and 2. Both figures compare the TLT estimates for the 1997-98 El Niño versus the 2015-16 El Niño so far.
Figure 2. RSS global TLT anomaly comparison for 1997-98 versus 2015-16.
Satellite peak global TLT estimates for El Niño events often lag the peak MEI and that appears to be happening with the current El Niño event. Both the RSS and UAH global TLT estimates through January 2016 are still rising.
Figure 3. UAH global TLT anomaly comparison for 1997-98 versus 2015-16.
If the current El Niño follows a similar pattern to the 1997-98 El Niño, the global TLT estimates may not peak until somewhere in the February to April range. The 1997-98 El Niño, as well as the 2010-11 El Niño were both followed by strong La Niña cooling events as can be seen in Figure 4 (click to enlarge). Thus, it seems likely that the current El Niño will also be followed by a strong La Niña, although time will tell.
Figure 4. UAH global TLT anomalies vs Multivariate ENSO Index 1996 through 2016 so far.
Figures 5 shows the current Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomalies for today (February 7, 2016) which can be compared to the Figure 6 map of SST anomalies for the same date in 1998. Both maps were provided by the University of Maine Climate Change Institute. Click on these figures to enlarge.
Figure 5. Global SST anomalies for 2016 February 7.
Figure 6. Global SST anomalies for 1998 February 7.
These maps indicate that in 1998 the El Niño was more intense in the far eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, as compared 2016 where the highest SST anomalies are farther west, in the central portions of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and slightly weaker. Interestingly, both years exhibit a cold SST anomaly pool in the North Central Pacific Ocean.
For monthly updates to key figures, see the ENSO page accessible from the menu bar at the top of this page.