The 2015 El Nino Factor

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Ocean Odyssey



The 2015 El Nino Factor


     I think many were using the "El Nino" description for last summer's warm water cycle for lack of any other descriptive term, even though it didn't fit the definition of a true El Nino.


     It's like calling a yellowtail a tuna: Looks kind of like a tuna and you can catch them on offshore tuna trips and many outside of the fishing community call them tuna, even though we know they are not.


     A "true" El Nino is defined by warm Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomalies near the Equator, specifically in the Nino 3.4 zone:

ninoareas c

     Southern California/Baja California do not really enter into the equation when it comes to the true definition of El Nino! Yes, we often see the side effects of El Nino in our waters, but not always...and vice versa.


"Was 2014's exceptional season that seemed like a full bore El Niño just a freak set of conditions that only brought sub-tropical species, but wasn't a larger cyclical event?"


     I think you hit the nail on the head.  While the Equatorial Nino zones were showing minimal positive anomalies, our local waters were MUCH warmer than normal. In fact, that warm anomaly extended all the way down to the Sea of Cortez. Certainly, last year (and carrying over into the winter) was truly a warm water cycle like none of us had ever seen before. The closest "match" to we experienced would be previous warm water cycles relating to El Ninos of the past: 1997-98 or 1982-83, for example.


"Now we have tuna crab on the coast and I'm wondering if this is the tail end of last season still or an early start to another summer of Central Baja in Southern California."


      I remember tuna crabs (pelagic red crabs) being a harbinger of the 1982-83 El Nino. It could very well be that the current weak El Nino actually gives us a little push and keeps the water warm again this spring and summer.

sstanim     While we're currently only seeing minor SST anomalies along the Equator, most models still predict SST anomalies that would support the classification of El Nino. Those conditions are predicted by the climate models to persist through spring 2015 and they support warmer than normal water along the California coast this summer:

SST 2015

     The above chart shows water along the west coast some 1°-2°C warmer than normal.  That's approximately 2°-5°F and if that forecast verifies (and we don't see a significant series of storms with the resultant upwelling along the coast) we very well could be in for another warm water year in Southern California. 


     Could it be two years in a row that wahoo are caught on overnight trips out of San Diego?  The trend over the next 5-6 months will be telling.












0 #5 Ame 2015-11-11 17:20
since the notification in California of crab season to end because of a neurotoxin called domoic acid that can build up in marine life. How do we know if crab, fish and shrimp is Safe to eat from sea of cortez, like rocky point?
+2 #4 Ricardo 2015-01-16 16:07
time to buy a boat! Lol
0 #3 C Dunn 2015-01-14 02:19
Quoting Tomas:
Although I disagree with your El Nino reasoning, (as the N. Pacific orbits clockwise) I agree with your conclusions... Tomas "The BajaInsider Climatologist"

Tomas- On the surface there may not appear to be a connection between what happens on the Equator and the West Coast of the U.S. However, researchers at Scripps have found a direct correlation between El Nino and an impact on California's coastal waters. Another analysis I found shows that 64% of El Nino years result in warmer than normal SSTs off the coast of Southern California. Now, correlation does not always mean causation, but more often than not there sure seems to be a connection....
Thanks for your response!
+1 #2 charlie o 2015-01-14 01:47
The laxing of trade winds and sea surface heights are a much better indication of El nino. Both have occured. As a waterman I've noticed that the waves that broke during El nino years, the sand transportation and the storm patterns have all been pointing to this cyclical trend. Plus catching 66 bluefin in January on the tribute last weekend is a good sign. Let's just enjoy the epic fishing no matter what the scientists say.
+1 #1 Tomas 2015-01-13 19:10
Although I disagree with your El Nino reasoning, (as the N. Pacific orbits clockwise) I agree with your conclusions. It is very likely that Baja's summer species will be found along the California coast again in 2015 and likely beyond. Bad for Sea of Cortez fishing, great for Southern California. (and a potentially dangerous year for Baja's tropical cyclones) Ah, but a forecaster who bats 70% five days out is a weather god! Drop me a line for the other 1000 words I wrote for you on this subject. Tomas "The BajaInsider Climatologist"

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