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. FL Gulf Coast Resident

    How about this – Global warming melts the ice caps. This causes more water to evaporate into the atmosphere, that water comes down as additional rain and snow. We are deluged in warm parts of the world and slammed by blizzards in cold parts. A side effect might be that with all these additional overcast days, the overall temp of the globe cools slightly causing new ice to form, and so on...

    January 14, 2011 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. JPotter

    Because "Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

    “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:4-14

    Perhaps this is the explanation?

    January 14, 2011 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Frost E Snowman

      Nice words from someone who was from a simple time who could understand some things. We've since evolved and have a vastly greater understanding of the world. Except for those who can't grasp complex scientific concepts, I guess your fantasy will have to suffice. For most of us, we can make our own realizations through a careful evaluation of scientific evidence instead of using hokey pokey sourcery and mysticism.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. Over the Edge Guy

    The End of the World

    January 14, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. UmDude

    The earth's magnetic poles are shifting (Tampa Int'l Airport just had to change the main runway markers because of it).
    The only thing you can do is be ready for the next life. 5 questions will tell you if you are:

    January 14, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Manic Messiah HE HE HA HA

      1) did you brush your teeth 2) did you make up your bed 3)did you let the cat out 4) did you call ET 5) is your suitcase packed.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bones

    Blame it on the Romans

    January 14, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  6. Manic Messiah HE HE HA HA

    This year our neighboring planets and Proxima Centauri are the cause. next year it will be lady gaga.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  7. AJS

    It not the government’s fault that the mudslide happened, but it is their fault, for not doing anything to try to prevent it. They allow all kinds of construction happen everywhere in brazil with no controls. They knew of the amount of rain that was coming, but because they can care less about an emergency plan, they were not able to notify anyone in time. The Brazilian government is the most corrupt in the world. They had several hundreds of millions reais to spent on preventive measures, but the money was not used or pocket by corrupted officials. The government is corrupt and does nothing to prevent it; since voting is mandatory in Brazil, what better way to gets votes, by allowing people to do what they want.

    The crime is very high, and the government does do @#$% about it. Why? Because most of the criminals in Brazil are politicians. The very same politicians that are elected to create laws, enforce them, are the most corrupt. A politician cannot go to jail in Brazil as long as he is in office. They have immunity/protections by their own corrupt laws.
    In my town in Brazil, money that is intended for Health Care, gets deviated to other pet projects and pocket. Every time there is a change in government, the person coming into office, basically sends out communication to anyone that the government owes money, that if they do not deposit a % of that money into someone's account (laranja), they will not get paid. That is how things work in Brazil. The justice department, is corrupt as well. They are supposed to monitor the process, but because they get a % of the money, they do not press charges. Has anyone seen or heard about a politician in Brazil going to jail? It does not happen. Lula had the opportunity to fix some of these issues, but because he was/is part of the problem, he didn’t do anything. His son, used to be a security guard at a zoo in Sao Paulo, now he is one of the biggest farmers in the state of Para – Brazil. He uses Dantas as his "laranja".
    If you think Brazil is the place to invest, think again! You may lose your pants down there at some point.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ec1warc1

    What killed off the Mayans? Global warming!

    January 14, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. Dee L

    First off, the reasons given are "effects" not causes..
    Why is it considered a conspiracy theory when one adds all of the recent occurrences together to form a better idea as to what the H is going on?
    It has never been normal in any part of the world to have fish and birds die off as they have (they both use EM fields to navigate)
    all of last year into this year something has been going on in the gulf of Aden...massive show of force by all of the worlds' Navies..
    magnetic north moves towards Russia 40 miles a year authorities are now saying.. Tampa had to change the runway designations because of it.. so the argument that it happens daily doesnt fly..although I realise it does but the base North has moved permanently..
    governments bailing out and spending money like theres NO TOMORROW.. like they know something the every day joe does not...
    there are many more things I could add but I am not convinced that there is a major event about to take place and our leaders know it...

    January 14, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Dee L

      I meant to say "I AM convinced"

      January 14, 2011 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      the faa reevaluates airport designations every two years. the more north south a runway is the quicker it will be effected by the procession of the north pole. this procession IS a daily event, even if you dont hasppen to read about it int he news all the time. if you bother to do a search you will find similar redesignations at other airports in the usa and around the world going back for as long as there have been airports.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • BusyPerson

      I have heard that they are building underground cities. Anybody else hear this?

      January 14, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. Bill Missett

    If you want to know what6's behind the bizarre weather, investigate HAARP and what it's up to. You can start your investigation by viewing the Jesse Ventura "Conspiracy Theory" show on the subject.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Dee L

      Bill google the map of the HAARP locations and the map of the fish and bird deaths (the one that updates)when you compare them there is a pattern

      January 14, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      sigh.... more crazies...

      as i said earlier in this thread:
      haarp has NOTHING to do with the weather.

      haarp can project 3,600,000 watts of power into the atmosphere. the sun deposits 174,000,000,000,000,000 watts of power into the atmosphere. the power from the sun can vary by as much as 174,000,000,000,000 watts. haarp compared to the sun driving the weather is like equating a wet fart to a category 5 hurricane.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jakem

    Where in the world is Al Gore to explain what is happening to our weather? Oh wait... I know where he is.... getting a massage.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. Almost all of us are dumb

    Woot for the wiki-scientists who dont know a thing about weather until they look it up and then play smart for the rest of us and then look down on others.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. Chuck

    Those Valcanos errupting in Iceland in 2010 causing this?

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

    Read the signs. End times. The world needs to repent.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Good one, since La Nina has never happened before. I suppose you are also one of those 2012 lunatics as well.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  15. Cookie Monster

    You are all blind. I will pray for you.

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

      and I will NOT pray for you 🙂

      January 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
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