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)

    These are the 'Signs of the times'.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. tizbad

    Are they sure it wasn't Hitler's work or doing ??? Cuz everyone knows what a nut case he was by trying to take over the world!!

    January 14, 2011 at 4:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    It has to do with the poles changes. You know, all that 2012 stuff.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. Fred

    Come to Africa , we have the best weather.

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

      You're wrong!
      Flood warnings for Johannesburg and surrounding areas today. Major South African Dams are currently overflowing.
      People drowned in floods over holiday season in South Africa. Eastern Cape in major drought since 2008 – now floods.
      South Africa is experiencing the same unpredictable weather patterns as the rest of the planet.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Chris

    Come on people its clear to me what's going on ..... Its an axis shift, that is effecting the entire globe. How do I know this ? well I once lived in the UK and now live in New Zealand. I noticed a few years ago a direct opposite would happen this side of the world to the other. To look at it from a simplistic perspective, what happens is there is only so much heat the sun gives out, and it is only hitting the earth at certain times, OK... with me so far ? Ive noticed when there is an increase in the UK, we get a decrease here i NZ, I can almost phone family and tell them whats going to happen now. Ive noticed with the extreemes happening, a direct opposite occurs here. Now when the axis shifts the extremes get more extreme. OK look at the UK now.. Coldest longest snow fall on record ... ( tick for me) and look at NZ hottest summer on record. OK sounding good so far. SO what about the other countries...Hmmm well because they are outside of the axis points , they get a hell of a ride. Can you see it now. Now the question is ... Will our axis stable our will things get worse. Ow I forgot to add earthquakes as the world get pulled apart.. Hmmm Christchurch comes to mind along with other unprecedented quakes around the world...... Now just to convince you I am a genius lol....... When the axis shift also this will effect the magnetic fields and you might find animals get confused. Hmmm is that happening ... OMG it is! ..... birds flying into the ground, whales getting beached.. Ok now I've got you interested, I'm sorry to say I can't tell you more, because I haven't had time to reflect and develop this theory. But if any world organizations want to hire me as part of their think tank I might charge a few dollars lol

    January 14, 2011 at 4:57 am | Report abuse |
    • anonymouse86

      Chris, it might be interesting to investigate whether a strong earthquake will cause another (probably weaker) earthquake close to its antipode (on the other side of the earth).

      January 14, 2011 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |


    January 14, 2011 at 5:26 am | Report abuse |
  7. roger

    The situation of the weather goes far beyond the increase of weather anomalies. If we look at the larger picture you will soon see we live in an unbalanced earth where population growth and carbon emissions have created holes in our ozone layer that is our our only buffer against the nourishing yet harmful rays of the sun. This has in turned caused a warming in the earth thus creating more carbon. with the help of continued burning of age old trees that are the only known producer of our much needed ozone we have set the earth into another cycle we will see as the cleansing cycle. The earth will rid itself of the cancer that is overpopulation its surfaces and selfishly depleting the earth of its natural resources. All colonies of species who are not self sufficient and assertive will fail in reproduction and perish in history just as the previous species have before humans. Such as dinosaurs and many species of sea and wild life that already have. Humans will soon be next if we do not get back to the basics and learn to better use our resources like land and ocean. We must replenish the earth of its nutrients and farm it and stop pouting the air and earth with heavy metals like aluminum that congest and kill off life.

    If you take a look around you you will soon realize your world is not as it was before and these changes are happening without our consent. The highest powers man can create can not change or alter the cycles of a very alive earth That will continue to live long after our time alive on it. No man made clouds, or fish farming or one country can save us from the inevitability of cycle changes.we can only adapt and do our best to survive. I do this every day by being as self sufficient and kind hearted to the earth as possible. Its easier then you think. It can be as easy as to carpool and growing your own veggies and poultry to feed your family good healthy wholesome food. And planting oxygen producing plants like day palms and fruit trees.


    January 14, 2011 at 5:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Haha

      You are right, the dinosaurs started using too much technology, that is why they are dead....
      maybe you should save the planet bro and stop buurning so much reefer.
      "good vibrations" (yeah, my vision would be vibrating too if I was on salvia)

      January 14, 2011 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. Joshua

    It is so funny that "La Niña" is being blamed for the weather turmoil around the world, when we all know that there
    is a weapon called HAARP which has been causing all these deaths, just because the Illuminati want 2/3 of the world population to die so they can better control the rest of the world. The dead birds, fish, tsunamis, flooding, earthquakes, you name it, and all of it can be done with the HAARP system. You can call it "CONSPIRACY THEORY" all you want, but, they have shown us that, behind all of these commotion, there is a criminal "MIND" and "HAND" that is doing it.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. Emily Muir

    What about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? There is evidence to suggest the oil has slowed ocean currents to break the Gulf of Mexico loop stream. The Gulf of Mexico loop is vital in heating ocean currents.

    "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."

    Well considering that 205.8 million gallons of crude oil was gushing into the sea over three months (it was capped in July) and this was the time that satelite data captured images of the gulf stream being broken, I think you have a connection right there that cannot be ignored.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:59 am | Report abuse |
  10. rbmatudan

    It's payback time from our Mother Nature....

    January 14, 2011 at 6:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. Robert Johnson

    Can't speak about Brazil but THIS IS NOT UNUSUAL IN AUSTRALIA!! Its just that we have this extreme weather unfortunately. In Brisbane the water rose to 4.5 metres, In 1974 it rose to 5.5m, and between 1880 and 1900 5 times it reached over 5 metres and once it reached 8m, In 1841 again it reached over 8m.

    So nothing at all to do with Global Warming or Climate Change.

    The Climate is continually changing, get used to it.

    January 14, 2011 at 6:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Over the Edge Guy

      Oh no...we are heading for the cliff, you just haven't got the edge yet.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. Maurício Oliveira

    Este é um momento de reflexão para todos nós, o quanto temos agredido o meio ambiente.

    January 14, 2011 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
  13. MartyTInOZ

    Too many of us, using too much, too quickly!

    January 14, 2011 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. MartyTInOZ

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that according to Greenland ice cores, this has been happening for at least the last couple of million years (when there were fewer of us (and not even any SUVs))!

    Go ahead, read, lean, and make your day ...

    January 14, 2011 at 6:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. Peter

    Here we go with the main reason for these events: A faster warming of the Arctic!

    and it has been known for months, too. Thus, it's a side-effect of climate change. The Arctic climate is a crucial factor for all weather events on the planet. An due to its warming, things are in a turbulent change.

    January 14, 2011 at 6:24 am | Report abuse |
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