Forecaster: Two phenomena responsible for world's bizarre weather
A graphic outlining sea temperature anomalies the first week in January shows drops in the Pacific as air temperatures rise between the U.S. and Europe (continents in gray). La Niña and the North Atlantic Oscillation are to blame, an expert says.
January 13th, 2011
03:35 PM ET

Forecaster: Two phenomena responsible for world's bizarre weather

The catastrophic weather events taking place across the globe – from Brazil’s and Australia’s flooding to the Eastern United States’ heavy snowfall – have two likely explanations.

Tony Barnston, lead forecaster at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, said two phenomena – La Niña and the North Atlantic Oscillation – are likely responsible for the patterns we’re seeing.

Though La Niña is different every time, it can be simply defined as a drop in water temperature in the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean. This particular La Niña appeared in July, Barnston said, and will last through spring.

During La Niña, there is less rainfall in the tropical Pacific and a horseshoe pattern of warm water typically forms in the North Pacific, the coast of Southeast Asia and the seas around Indonesia and Australia (check out the graphic above).

In this case, though, “the whole globe looks to be compensating,” Barnston said, noting that it’s difficult to determine if  La Niña spawns individual weather events.

While Southeast Asia and Australia can typically expect warmer oceans and more rainfall during La Niña, the affected area stretches farther west this year and includes Sri Lanka and the southern tip of India, Barnston said.

There is presently a massive rescue operation under way in Sri Lanka to save victims of flooding that has already killed at least 13 people. Floods have killed another 40 people in the Philippines, and Australia has been inundated with deadly flooding reportedly estimated to cover an area the size of France and Germany combined. To the east of La Niña, South America's north coast has been slammed with rain, and hundreds have been killed in Brazil's flooding and mudslides.

La Niña usually means warmer temperatures in the United States, particularly the Southeast, but this year the North Atlantic Oscillation is trumping La Niña.

Since November, we have been in the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation, Barnston said, meaning that air temperatures between the eastern U.S. and Europe will drop. This causes temperatures to rise in places like northeast Canada, Greenland and Iceland, as the mercury drops on thermometers in the eastern U.S.

Weather experts call it a see-saw pattern, and it will eventually affect water temperatures, though that’s a secondary effect, Barnston said.

So while La Niña would normally mean dryer, warmer weather for folks in the southern United States, “the North Atlantic Oscillation has superseded the La Niña” this year, bringing El Niño-like winter temperatures and snow to the Southeast, he said.

CNN meteorologists reported earlier this week that snow was present in every U.S. state but Florida.

Though La Nina typically lasts until April or May, the North Atlantic Oscillation can move from a negative to positive phase mid-winter. Barnston said the Southeast “could be warmer and dryer than normal later this year if the North Atlantic Oscillation ceases and desists.”

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Filed under: Australia • Brazil • India • Indonesia • Philippines • Sri Lanka • Tropical weather • U.S. • Weather • Winter weather
soundoff (963 Responses)
  1. Ggr

    It's not "bizarre" weather, it's just weather. Weather happens, get a grip will ya!

    January 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • frs

      You're right – weather happens. And it changes all the time too. It doesn't hurt to try and understand how those changes take place. It's called knowledge. It's a good thing.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rick

    i beleieve it is from Pole shift...they are just not telling us the truth about what our earth is doing..it would cause mass panic!!

    January 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Weather is a result of the Earth's atmosphere balancing out the radiation received from the sun. In now way is that affected by the "poles shifting"...the only thing that matters is the tilt angle of the earth, which does change but slowly and gradually, and is very well known.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • GayFish

      Tony, how in "now way" do the poles not affect radiation from the sun? Do you not understand how magnetic fields work? They in EVERY way affect everything the sun sends at us.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • BusyPerson

      I agree. The poles are losing their magnetic pull.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • StormeeATL

      I saw that movie, too, the alien ships should be coming, soon

      January 14, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Gspot

      Poles have magnetic properties? Is that because they are in Poland?

      January 14, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  3. mikey

    Well a volcano buts out more greenhouse gas then all of man and cows put out methane like nothing but when a person comes out and say man is ruinijng the planet everyone panics. well what i have read the warming of the earth sid rise something like one tenth of a thousand degree in 20 years so by the time all this flooding happens those are alive will be our great great great grandchildren but by then they may have moved to another planet.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danny

      Im not sure where you get your info, but volcanic eruptions are almost negligible compared to the amount created through biotic respiration or anthropogenic addendum. google greenhouse gases, this info is even available on wiki. knowledge is power, do your own research and don't just listen to what either side is saying. pewclimate is a good info source or National Ocean and Atmospheric Association.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • baby jeebus

      wiki is my go-to for all things scientific.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • sal

      There is no such thing as global warming. Ese weather events are a natural recurring process. Thousands of years ago, way before cars and planes greenland was warm all the time and green all year (hence the name).I remember 30 years ago these same liberal fools were claiming we would have global cooling.....now these same people call it global warming, so which is it??? It is all just nonsense.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      Actually, global warming does happen, and has happened in the past, I'm sure that if we looked back long enough we'd find a time with no Ice at the poles. Global cooling happens too and has in the past, we call those ice ages. Our problem is that we have this fixed idea about our planet in our brains, it's just not realistic. This planet is changing all the time and that includes the weather, and temperatures. And yes, we do carry responsibility for the changes, at least partially, but that's just cause we're a natural phenomenon too.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Brien

      @sal, Greenland was not named that because it was green all the time.According to legend it was named that based on murderer Erik the Red's PR skills to hopefully draw settlers to live with him in exile. On dated maps it was the home to the Grunts or Grons, which was perhaps mistranscribed as Green. But never did the name literally mean it was a land of lush green forests only later overrun by glaciers. The glaciers were there long before man.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      Actually, volcanoes aren'tnegligible, they put out alot of contaminants, and big eruptions have caused weather changes in the past, when the Indonesian volcano erupted, and took half the island it was on with it, the following summer in europe was exceptionally cold, and the crops failed. We're told that volcanoes don't matter for 2 reasons, because we have zero influence over them, and therefore can't controll what they spew out with taxation, and because it's hard to sell us an emissions tax when we know that volcanoes are big poluters too.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      Sorry, that eruption took place in the 19th century, and the volcanoes name was Krakatau.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:31 am | Report abuse |
    • TC_in_CT

      Volcanos can and do affect weather ... Everyone GOOGLE Year Without a Summer or 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora and follow the link to Wikipedia ...
      Can y`all image what BARBARA and the rest of the "THE END IS NEAR" crowd would be posting if it snows in June at Albany NY or if river ice was still present in Pennsylvania in AUGUST ... (that really did happen in the summer of 1816) ....

      January 14, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. Karin

    It is the returning to Earth of all of the particulate matter spewed into the atmosphere by that volcano in iceland!

    January 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mythoughts247

    All the world's leading scientists have told us that we are experiencing global warming and that global warming will bring more flooding and more droughts. Coincidence? Why are the news organizations ignoring this?

    January 13, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      because it's a big joke... for carbon emissions to cause global warming is the stupidest thing ever. Carbon makes up less than .5% of the greenhouse gasses in the Earth's atmosphere (water vapor makes up over 90%). Temperatures were higher during the time of the vikings and I doubt they were burning as much fuel as china is on a daily basis. What we should really be worried about is when temperatures start going down... many scientists believe that the reason for the Bubonic Plague was because of lowering temperatures

      January 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • frs

      It's climate change – not necessarily warming in every respect. And, despite Brian's plea to the contrary, all relibale data points to changes happening amd happening much more quickly than historically.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • SarahLV

      @frs is right. It's climate change, not "global warming". The reason why science is hung up on the warming aspect is not because of the individual incidents such as snowstorms and blizzards, and the cold southeast, but because the poles are warming sooner in the year and cooling later in the year, causing the polar ice to melt that much quicker, and to not refreeze enough. This is not only killing off the animals who rely on the ice as hunting grounds (such as polar bears), but it is causing the rise of the oceans at an estimated average of nearly 2mm per year. That may not seem like a lot, but consider that these do add up quicker than we think. Our planet's global temperatures are rising at a rate of approximately 0.13 degrees Celsius per year, which has been much greater in the past 100 years than previously, indicating the cause being the industrial revolution. That said, the words climate change are more appropriate, as some parts of the world are experiencing general cooling, rather than warming.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
    • bb

      The global warming led to a decrease in the ocean temperature. Sure, I'll buy that.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Me

      Because they are F'n idiots. People chose to ignore what's right in front of their faces. How can it be global warming with so much snow? Because warm air holds more moisture, which equals more snow and more rain. More rain means flooding like in Australia and Brazil. Warmer water helps with the melting of the ice sheets, which means the oceans are rising, which helps add to the flooding. It's so obvious!

      January 14, 2011 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • StormeeATL

      Give Brian a break, he's getting his reliable date from "scientists" like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck

      January 14, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      Wow Brian, 90% of the atmosphere is water vapor? Makes you wonder where the 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen fits in, doesn't it? The truth is, atmospheric water vapor is usually around 1%, and never exceeds a max of 2-4% (depending on temperature). If it did, it would condense out of the air as fog or rain.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Arpad101

    Propaganda works best when people are not aware of it.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Karin

    The bizarre weather actually has a very simple and natural explanation: it is the returning to Earth by the force of gravity of all of the millions of tons of ash particulate matter that ws spewed into the atmosphere by that big volcano in Iceland!
    The particulate matter is falling and catching water vapor droplets and forming snow in the northern hemisphere where we are now having winter, and it is falling and catching water vapor droplets and forming rain in the southern hemisphere which is now experiencing summer. "What goes up, must come down!" :)

    January 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brian

    In other news... every single state in the U.S had snow on the ground during the past week, except for Florida. Democrats say that the reason there was no snow in Florida was due to Global Warming.... hahahaha

    January 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scientist

      Global warming means more energy in the atmosphere, and more evaporation from the oceans. Global warming doesn't mean places on earth can't get below freezing: we will still see snow, and ice. But what it does predict is far wetter events of longer duration (be they snow or rain) and that is precisely what we are experiencing.

      Saying that it will never snow again because of global warming is an extreme oversimplification. Some parts of the earth will still rarely drop below freezing. But some of the places that normally wouldn't drop below freezing are now (the Poles, high elevations), and we are seeing melting because of that.

      And there are more than a few Republicans that believe in global warming as well.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
    • ravenlynne

      This has been argued many times intelligently. I suppose you're still posting this same stupidness because you think you're witty. You're not. You're just coming across as a moron.

      January 14, 2011 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
    • CathyJ

      apparently most people have forgotten about Wiki leaks dump of emails from scientists pushing global warming caused by carbon dioxide. Why did Michael Mann have to leave out data in his hockey stick graph? Why do they have to exaggerate if the data is so convincing? Why are they, in a time of weather crisis, shutting down weather reporting stations? Why did they refuse to print other theories in peer review journals? Gore's film lost a court battle in England. The court proved there are many lies in the film and the film CAN"T be shown in schools w/o a disclaimer that this is a political film not a scientific one? I could go on but I'm out of time.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
    • StormeeATL

      You're not going to get anywhere Brian with the same old tired denial created by the propaganda ministry of Beck, Limbaugh and Faux News. And how come every time I hear you deniers using the old "it's cold everywhere" line to refute global warming, how do you explain all the cities that had record high temperatures last year, including cities that normally don't get that hot such as Seattle, Portland and Vancouver? By your same simple logic I guess that verifies global warming. Try reading info from scientists for once instead of the Drudge Report or National Review

      January 14, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. Ralph

    It is all an educated guess predicting weather....no different than trading in the stock market. One thing is certain...nothing is cut in stone and you really on past histories to make your judgment calls on what you think will happen. But we need to have the weather tracked, it can help save lives.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • baby jeebus

      I hope the scientists also run computer simulations predicting when the sun is going to burn out. I'm pretty scared about that too, and I think we need figure out how to stop it from happening before it's too late.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. John

    The seas churning around actually have little to do with man made phenomena. Scientists have recently discovered that the atmospheres of the other planets in the solar system have begun to thaw and produce more intense weather patterns themselves. So the solar system as a whole is moving into a region of higher surrounding energy from the warmer region of space we are moving into. According to the fossil record this has happened often in Earth's history, and caused global cooling and warming periods, sometimes leading to mass extinctions. As far as the poles changing, this happens once or twice every several thousand years anyway. These shifts are known to cause major weather phenomenon, mass extinctions, and continent changing earthquake events as well, so they're really nothing to sneeze at. Gravity, magnetism, and surface heat are all linked. The areas of increasing hot and cold oscillations of sea water are akin to a pot boiling ever so slightly faster as more cosmic fire is added to the mix. But even with no less than five mass extinctions in Earth's history life managed to go on. Humans much balley-hoo themselves, but really we are just dust in the solar wind too.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • SuzinFL

      Interesting, John. Thank you for sharing.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • TC_in_CT

      John ... you stated "Scientists have recently discovered that the atmospheres of the other planets in the solar system have begun to thaw and produce more intense weather patterns themselves." Can you provide some links or refences to published articles ... ? Or should we simply take this as fact cause you say its so?

      January 14, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. rm

    All of u who claim Jesus is the cause have just as much credibility as the meteorologists, NONE. When it comes down to it you better be able to help yourself, cause the guy jesus who doesn't exist can't help you!

    January 13, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZP

      RM........ agreed

      January 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • GGTOP

      Jesus? No one is blaming Jesus. Everyone is talking about God. These are two different people, ya know?

      January 14, 2011 at 4:12 am | Report abuse |
    • carter

      oh my dear friend rm. Don't get it twisted by the world view of their fact that Jesus the Christ is not real. He is real and He is the Son of God, even God himself manifest in the flesh of the One who shall be called Jesus. And else where in the synoptic gospels. His name shall be called Immanuel meaning God with us. Confess, repent and except the gift of God which is eternal life. John 3:16

      January 14, 2011 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  12. joedoe119

    We are doomed! Stock up and load up!

    January 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. SuzinFL

    I'm not a scientist or meteorologist or anything like that, but I have a question for any one of you who might have some knowledge about this kind of thing. I read a story the other day that scientists have created 52 thunderstorms somewhere in the middle east since June or July. Could us messing with the weather have anything to do with all the bad weather going on lately? The bird deaths? Anything? My husband says he thinks its good that we're messing with the weather because it could help us to prevent bad weather in the future. It just doesn't seem right to me. I think that we shouldn't do it because we may not understand all the consequences of doing so.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Really? That is amazing! Can you give us the source of that information? Just curious

      January 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • SuzinFL

      http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/01/03/scientists-create-52-artificial-rain-storms-in-abu-dhabi-desert/

      January 13, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      If scientists can do that and control the weather then they surely can solve the global warming problem.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • SuzinFL

      Arpad101, It's no longer a question of IF they can do it. They are doing it. I posted the link for you as requested. Did you read it?

      As I previously posted, is there anyone here with scientific knowledge who can comment on whether or not this would effect the current weather we're seeing?

      January 14, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
    • antony

      it's just some artificial rain " Artificial rain is produced by spraying clouds with substances like Silver Iodide (costly) or cheaper ones like solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) or even finely powdered Sodium Chloride. The process is called seeding. " not a new technology.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:34 am | Report abuse |
    • SuzinFL

      According to the information on the link I provided, this was not seeding.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  14. Arpad101

    Through all of recorded history doomsday has always been around the corner yet never happened.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZP

      it's happening Arpad101 – the nations are seeing the face of the Almighty. His strength.
      visit shirat devorah DOT blogspot DOT com

      January 13, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ravenlynne

      All animals in nature are afraid of death. It's natural instinct to fight for your life. The difference between animals and some of us humans (obviously not all going by your post and many others) is that some of us don't believe in fairy tales.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
  15. ZP

    The A-lmighty, Creator of all, is in control. Everything that is taken place – mass animal killings, oil spil, the twin towers, floods, etc. etc. etc.. is from the prophecies of the Jewish holy writings – Torah. Check it out.
    shirat devorah DOT blogspot DOT com

    tidbitsoftorah DOT blogspot DOT com

    January 13, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      You must be joking!

      January 13, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZP

      not at all

      January 13, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      So when is the world coming to an end?

      January 14, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • antony

      no, girls with skimpy outfits caused this

      January 14, 2011 at 4:51 am | Report abuse |
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