Changing patterns of correlations between the historical average June-November Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) and October-March precipitation totals for 84 climate divisions in the western US indicate a large amount of variability in SOI/precipitation relations on decadal time scales. Correlations of western US precipitation with SOI and other indices of tropical El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) processes were much weaker from 1920 to 1950 than during recent decades. This variability in teleconnections is associated with the character of tropical air-sea interactions as indexed by the number of out-of-phase SOI/tropical sea surface temperature (SST) episodes, and with decadal variability in the North Pacific Ocean as indexed by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). ENSO teleconnections with precipitation in the western US are strong when SOI and NINO3 are out-of-phase and PDO is negative. ENSO teleconnections are weak when SOI and NINO3 are weakly correlated and PDO is positive. Decadal modes of tropical and North Pacific Ocean climate variability are important indicators of periods when ENSO indices, like SOI, can be used as reliable predictors of winter precipitation in the US.
Additional publication details
Decadal variations in the strength of ENSO teleconnections with precipitation in the western United States