El Niño events occur every few years but predicting the timing and severity of the next event has been challenging. The prediction accuracy for the severe 1997–1998 El Niño event varied across models, and complex ones did not fare any better than simple ones. Clarke and Van Gorder now report that departures from normal zonal (east-west) wind patterns in the far-western equatorial Pacific are useful retrospective predictors of El Niño events, which originate in the far western tropical Pacific and travel slowly eastwards as they grow. The wind pattern anomaly leads the El Niño event by several months, and analysis of El Niño events since 1962 shows that predictions from a simple statistical model based on this anomaly compare favorably with those of two relatively successful models. — JU
Geophys. Res. Lett.28, 579 (2001).