Blame Those Troublemaking MJOs

Jan 29, 2016
Hurricane Isaac 2012


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Are you already tired of the Atlantic hurricane season?

Now that we have some El Niño conditions in the Tropical Pacific, aren’t things supposed to quiet down?

Sorry, thanks to the troublemaker of the oceans, the Madden Julian Oscillation or MJOs, we still are going to see more storms.

The oceans are full of climate patterns. Usually the giant El Niño shapes the weathers in the tropics.

However, when the El Niños are very new and weak, like now, other patterns can dominate.

That’s all the MJOs need to cause trouble.

Expand below picture.

MJOs flow through the tropics, causing storms and droughts. Source: Browning Newsletter

MJOs are small ocean/wind patterns that drift around the equator. Each pulse lasts for a few weeks at a time. First you have quiet trade winds for a few weeks. The ocean below becomes still and sun warmed. (This warm water is called a Kelvin wave.) Then it is followed by strong winds that toss the seas, cool the ocean and cause storms. Warm, then cool, dry, then stormy – that’s the pattern of the MJOs as they flow around the tropics.

If MJOs are strong, this can cause some real problems. For example, India was supposed to be in its wet monsoon season last July. A drying MJO drifted over India and the monsoon failed. Desperate Indian farmers lost 22% of their rainfall. When they tried to use electricity to irrigate the fields, it caused a massive blackout that left 700 million people without power.

Expand below picture.

See the MJO pulses around the tropics. The MJOs are kicking up a storm in the middle of the Atlantic. Source: NOAA

Now the stormy phase of a MJO is in the middle of the Atlantic. El Niños may be suppressing hurricanes, but the MJO is literally kicking up a storm. It has helped start Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie and Michael. It is expected to linger and cause more storms and more mischief.

The El Niño conditions are trying to quiet our storm season down. But if we have any more storms, you know who to blame. It’s those troublemaking MJOs.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

Reader Comments

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Very interesting. In Virginia

Very interesting. In Virginia we normally wont see many tropical storms or hurricanes.The waters here arent warm enough in the Oct-Nov period to support optimum tropic activity, but i can definitely tell you that thats not true in the gulf. I drove down to Texas back in July and the gulf water is sooo much warmer, i could feel the difference. It looks like I left right on time because back home there was a huge heat wave during that time. After I came inland I could feel those warm moist breezes but i dont know whether that was from the ocean or not. I loved it down there. So warm and comfy to sit on my chair and soak up some sun but thats over for me now. Austin and San Antonio Bay was a beautiful vacation. I wonder what its like in the winter. Chesapeake closes for the winter (as do many)

I wouldnt get too excited

I wouldnt get too excited about the hurricanes slowing down. Hurricanes can stay fairly active through the fall. I also notice people are talking about the weather we've seen this year. Im sorry but here in the eastern part of the nation i dont know if we can have fall and winter anymore. Since its global warming. The NAO will go strongly positive again and we wont have a winter yet again this year. Mother nature doesent want us to have fall and winter anymore. Its too much to ask for and we're just not lucky enough for that. Giving up hope on fall and winter :( summer is the only season that exists now. Im sorry im so pessimistic lol! but im that type of person thats like Ill believe it when I see it. Prove me wrong, Evelyn

I can't prove you wrong, but

I can't prove you wrong, but I imagine this winter's weather will. It may be a warmer winter than normal, but it should be cooler than last year.

ooops this old bird forgot to

ooops this old bird forgot to list her location! im in the mid atlantic. You couldnt tell me without a location lol!!

I have a question but its not

I have a question but its not hurricane related.. Im sorry. But I just checked the 6-10, 8-14, month and season outlooks on NOAA and above normal temperatures are expected in every outlook. I even checked the winter season and it was warm. I dont want warmer than normal. Its almost October and we all want to have some spectacular fall weather and have the fall like everybody wants. Will it cool down like this again? or is it going to be warm, miserable and dry all season long then we'll be slapped in the face with another winter that wasent? How are things looking Evelyn? We just want a spectacular fall season filled with cool air, pumpkins and foliage. Then we can look foward to a better and colder winter than last year with the much needed higher snow pack! now that its autumn there are much more signs pointing to fall and winter

I agree. Nobody can stand

I agree. Nobody can stand warmer than normal much longer. If thats the case.. i wont go outside and enjoy fall until it starts feeling like it!! Ughh! Here in the midwest were chilly now but of course.. as october comes in well be looking foward to chilly weather when it will be warmer than normal. We will all cry if this fall doesent turn things around. I hope NOAA is dead wrong. We want seasonal fall temperatures :( done with summer

I couldn't agree more,

I couldn't agree more, Denise! We've had record heat waves here in the Midwest, and drought conditions as well, throughout the Summer months. Winters of late have been pathetically sparse, with temperatures far above normal (real normal, not just based on the last ten years). I'm hoping and praying we get hit with loads of big snows and lengthy freezing conditions this year, as they are desperately needed to kill out the insects and enrich the soil. And let's face it, Christmas without snow is like Thanksgiving without turkey and dressing... it just isn't right.

I agree with both of you. At

I agree with both of you. At the same time, the weather bug in me is finding these new records absolutely amazing and interesting. If only it didn't mean so much hardship for farmers, ranchers and gardens.

Oh please, we've seen ENOUGH

Oh please, we've seen ENOUGH records this year.. records, records, records is all we've seen this year. Temperatures, winter tornadoes, early hurricanes, drought, no we dont need any hurricane records. I just want to be done with the records. 2012 has been quite a year, so now im ready to watch the leaves fall in the autumnal breezes and sit at the fireplace, set my clocks back then enjoy the longer and chillier nights ahead! then we can say "Merry Christmas" and watch the white stuff fall in the air come December. Lets close out the rest of 2012 just like that

The hurricanes will calm down

The hurricanes will calm down eventually. Once the el nino strengthens and we get later in the season they will die off but its September after all. August and September have been known for wild tropical activity. Were actually starting to head out of the peak i think. We dont need hurricanes anymore! the rains are returning by themselves not by a hurricane. I also hear that autumn is on the way.. early! hard to believe after this hot summer. but theres one problem still left.. the MJO doesent want us to get too happy!

no hurricane worries = happy America!


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