2009-2010 El Nino: Predicted hydrologic response in the United States


R. N. Palmer

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Publication Title

World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2010: Challenges of Change


American Society of Civil Engineers

First page number:


Last page number:



The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) currently (as of October 2009) forecasts that the southern Pacific Ocean will experience El-Niño conditions in late 2009 into 2010. Evaluating historic El-Niño events similar to the current conditions suggests that some regions of the U.S. including the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest, will see improvement in surface water supply, while others including the Pacific Northwest will experience below average water supply conditions. The hydrologic data consists of 639 unimpaired streamflow stations for the continental U.S. and approximately 300 western U.S. snowpack stations. To determine similar historic El Niño events to the forecasted 2009–2010 El Niño, two statistical tests were performed. A similar El Niño event was defined when the monthly historic Niño 3.4 conditions and forecasted 2009–2010 Niño 3.4 conditions had a coefficient of determination (R2) exceeding 90% and the t-test of the difference of the means did not exceed 90%. Four historic El Niño events (1972–1973, 1982–1983, 1986–1987, and 2002–2003) were found to be similar to the forecasted 2009–2010 El Niño event. Yearly standardized anomalies (i.e., mean of zero and standard deviation of one) of the streamflow and snowpack data were used to evaluate the fluctuations from the means for year (1973, 1983, 1987 and 2003) following the El Niño event. The hydrologic response included March 1st, April 1st and May 1st snowpack and, seasonal and water-year streamflow. The results would be able to give recommendations to water managers regarding projected changes in water supply and the impacts to reservoir operations. Given the timing of the 2010 ASCE EWRI Conference (mid May), current 2010 hydrologic response will be compared to predicted (i.e., 1973, 1983, 1987 and 2003) response.


Hydrology; Pacific Ocean--El Niño Current; Snowpack augmentation; Streamflow; Water-supply; Water table


Civil and Environmental Engineering | Engineering | Environmental Engineering | Environmental Sciences | Hydraulic Engineering




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