El Nino
Uninhabitable apartments, in danger of collapsing into the Pacific Ocean, line Esplanade Ave. in Pacifica, California January 26, 2016. The city has marked three apartment complexes uninhabitable as El Nino storm erosion eats away at the coastal bluff beneath them. Reuters/Noah Berger

Ángel Adames’ new paper, to be published in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, deals with a mathematical model that may help and forecast a massive cluster of thunderstorms, known as Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO).

This massive cluster has a big role to play in global weather and wreaks havoc in world weather, just like another weather system El Niño. However, this new weather system, in the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans, is relatively unknown.

Nobody knows what sets up the MJO, why it is more active during winters and then completely disappears for months. Also unknown is why some MJOs reach the Pacific affecting global weather while some end in the Indian Ocean.

“Over the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific -- one of the warmest, most moist areas of the planet -- there is a colossal cluster of clouds every 40 to 50 days or so. When it's active, it's a very strong signal,” says Adames, a UW doctoral student in atmospheric sciences.

MJO’s titanic cluster of rain clouds, hits the Earth below, thereby bringing a moving collection of rainstorms. These storms last a week or more but are generally followed by clear skies. Quite interestingly, this system repeats every month and a half, reports EurekAlert. Weather balloons showed the pattern’s existence in the 1970s.

According to the researcher, satellite observations have shown that these storms move across the tropical Pacific every 45 days. After several such cycles, the system goes inactive for many months. The system rebuilds during this quiet phase.

However, researchers know what the MJO is doing now but don't have a clue what it will do next. The new paper presents a series of equations that describes how the cluster of storms moves and where it will pop up.

Co-author Daehyun Kim, a UW assistant professor of atmospheric sciences, believes that the MJO is the next El Niño. Its understanding will help predict flooding and rainstorms over India, Pacific islands such as Maldives and Indonesia, and northern Australia.

MJO can also multiply the effects of El Niño, just like in early January 2016. Both the systems were active at the same time in the tropical Pacific. The mathematical model claims that high-humidity areas are created by the MJO that develop into massive thunderstorms.

Satellite observations from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission were used by the researchers to check the equations. The data showed each storm begins slightly to the west of the preceding one, and matches the patterns the researchers predicted.