ENSO and Climate Variability

Science Concepts—ENSO and Climate Variability

Summary: A major source of climate variability in the Pacific Northwest comes from the El Niño / Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Although ENSO is defined by shifts in ocean currents and winds off the western coast of South America, the resulting changes in sea surface temperature (SST) affects our weather in Oregon. In El Niño years, an increase in SST leads to warmer winters and below average rainfall, snowpack, and streamflow in Oregon. As scientific understanding and forecasting of ENSO improves, communities can better plan for short term climate variability.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Oregon’s climate is affected by ocean processes centered at distant locations
  2. Complex factors combine to produce patterns of climate variability that can be predicted
  3. The relationship between ENSO and global climate change is not yet well understood


Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Describe the El Niño / Southern Oscillation and its affect on Oregon
  2. Use real-time data and forecasts to explain the effects of ENSO on the current year

Activity Links and Resources:


  • Search available resources to find out the forecast for ENSO for the current year. What evidence is used to support forecast predictions?
  • Can We Blame El Niño for Wild Weather includes questions at the end of each section
  • El Niño from NOAA Ocean Explorer includes online quizzes at the end of each section