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The role of the Madden-Julian Oscillation in the El Nino and Indian drought of 2002

Saith, N. and Slingo, J. (2006) The role of the Madden-Julian Oscillation in the El Nino and Indian drought of 2002. International Journal Of Climatology, 26 (10). pp. 1361-1378. ISSN 0899-8418

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In 2002 India experienced a severe drought, one among the five worst droughts since records began in 1871, notable for its countrywide influence. The drought was primarily due to an unprecedented break in the monsoon during July, which persisted for almost the whole month and affected most of the sub-continent. The failure of the monsoon in 2002 was not predicted and India was not prepared for the devastating impacts on, for example, agriculture. This paper documents the evolution of the 2002 Indian summer monsoon and considers the possible factors that contributed to the drought and the failure of the forecasts. The development of the 2002/2003 El Nino and the unusually high levels of Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) activity during the monsoon season are identified as the central players. The 2002/2003 El Nino was characterised by very high sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) in the central Pacific that developed rapidly during the monsoon season. It is suggested that the unusual character of the developing El Nino was associated with the MJO and was a consequence of the eastward extension of the West Pacific Warm Pool, brought about primarily by a series of westerly wind events (WWEs) as part of the eastward movement of the active phase of the MJO. During the boreal summer, the MJO is usually characterised by northward movement, but in 2002 the northward component of the MJO was weak and the MJO was dominated by a strong eastward component, probably driven by the abnormally high SSTs in the central Pacific. It is suggested that a positive feedback existed between the developing El Nino and the eastward component of the MJO, which weakened the active phases of the monsoon. In particular, the unprecedented monsoon break in July could be associated with the juxtaposition of strong MJO activity with a developing El Nino, both of which interfered constructively with each other to produce major perturbations to the distribution of tropical heating. Subsequently, the main impact of the developing El Nino was a modulation of the Walker circulation that led to the overall suppression of the Indian monsoon during thess latter part of the season. It is argued that the unique combination of a rapidly developing El Nino and strong MJO activity, which was timed within the seasonal cycle to have maximum impact on the Indian summer monsoon, meant that prediction of the prolonged break in July and the seasonally deficient rainfall was a challenge for both the empirical and dynamical forecasting systems. Copyright (C) 2006 Royal Meteorological Society.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:5223

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