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. common sense

    I do not believe in global warming. But now that it's changed to global climate change, I think it is true. Sometimes it's hot, sometimes it's not. Makes sense to me. How much money does the government spend annually to figure that out? So basically, everywhere on earth has a change in their weather. Well worth the money spent.

    Jets! Jets! Jets!

    January 14, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dee L

    HAARP by design and it's scientists very own explanation.. "when the antennae are on and being pulsed heats the ionosphere to1600 degrees in as high as 50 miles up and a mile wide from the inside out" and localised in a solid beam.. your explanation is weak, and calling me crazy when I know what I am talking about is like turning and farting in the wind..
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkLTzesBxGE&feature=related

    take a gander..

    January 14, 2011 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. Erich

    You guys mean Global Climate Change? Global Warming is a misnomer, actually the major climates of the globe are changing and shifting. This causes floods in regions not accustomed to flooding (aka Nevada and Australlia)and drought in areas accustomed to heavy rainfall. The evidance is compelling that there are alarming changes in global climate. To dismiss the evidance as crazy and false is dangerous. Then again people were speaking out about predatory lending practices in the late 90s and early 00s and we all know how that turned out.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  4. apathetic

    Global warming??? I remember in the 70's they were predicting a new ice age was coming from the things we humans do. And last decade or so its greenhouse gases and global warming. All from the same scientists(yes and some newones also). They should make up their minds and stick with it. All this from people who can't predict weather any better than darts and a dart board. People need to learn to think for themselves and not be lemmings. But that seems to be to much to ask. All this global warming and b4 that new ice age is junk science like silcon breast implants leaking kills and and the alar in apple juice is killing kids among other things.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Oh yeah, those scientists who don't know anything

      Like how they did not figure out how to make recordable DVDs, or how low-cost flat panel LCD televisions were never invented. Too bad they never figured out a cure for Polio, how to pasteurize milk, or how to create a global network of computers where an Oxford-educated nuclear physicist can hurl insults at a complete moron from the US with complete anonymity.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lauralee

    its Crab people

    January 14, 2011 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ryan Rocket

    Pole Shift... End Times.... 2012 you name it. These are signs that we are getting closer to our own created doom.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. jpr01126

    I'm suprised nobody has blamed Bush yet.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • shoottweendaeyes

      Bush??? To hell with that idiot...he didn't have sense to come in outta tha rain!

      January 14, 2011 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. shoottweendaeyes

    I tell u what's behind all this creepy weather we've been having...God...yea, the boss that everyone goes to church to worship on Sunday, yet thinks on Monday they can keep getting away with fuking their neighbors...from OBOZZER on down...all the crooks that are squandering US money...God is tired of this SHYTT and he is letting it be known...that is what's with the weather...looks like basturds the world over and mainly in the US would realize this and stop wasting their gasoline going to church on Sunday if they don't realize it!!!

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

    Well it does say in Matthew 24...

    Lol, jks.

    ... But seriously.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. Global Bullpuck

    You global warming sheep crack me up...

    January 14, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  11. Al Gore

    Sounds like bull$hiit to me.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. Al

    You're all wrong.
    Pat Robertson has the best explanation:

    ...claimed that God created the blizzard currently battering the Northeast "to punish Americans who were planning to drive to do something gay."

    Explaining his theory, Robertson said, "Because of the bad road conditions the Almighty has made, any gay activities that people were planning on doing will have to be postponed by a day or two."__ Additionally, he argued, God shut down major airports in the New York area "so that people who were hoping to fly to do something of a gay nature would have to take a train or a bus, so it might be days before the gay thing they were going to do could occur."

    The things some people say....

    January 14, 2011 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Toirrah

      yeah I am a strong christain but yeah God did this but not for that reason and If i knew the reason I would be God

      January 14, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. K

    You know what? I don't care. They've been teaching global warming since the 50s and I've been careful my whole life. Did I make a difference? Nope. 1 person can't make change. 100 people make no difference. 1000 people make no difference. We're up against all the factories and transportation of goods by trains and trucks on this continent and all the others on the planet as well as volcanoes and natural gas emissions. Our choice has always been to live in a cave and eat berries (because society has not developed any choices to be, "greener,") or live a normal life with modern conveniences that produce pollution. And now they're saying it's too late even if we stopped all emissions right now. Ok. I don't care then. There's never been anything I could do about this and there's certainly nothing I can do about it now.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  14. Auburn tigers change their name to cheetas

    AUBURN WON A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP !! THAT HAS CAUSED HELL TO FREEZE OVER!!

    IT WILL THAW SOON SINCE THEY WILL SOON BE ON PROBATION!! AND NEVER WIN ANOTHER ONE!!

    January 14, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  15. Sri

    According to the Hindu Calander, we are in the year of natural calamities untiil April 3, 2011. We will exit the year on April 4, 2011. All planets are out of control causing major natural calamities, recesion, job loss, housing market collapse etc across the world. Every person, every family and every country will be effected and no body would be spared. I sincerily request everyone to pray god, chant his name inside and feed the hungry and poor no matter what religion you follow to escape the natures wrath. Look around your families, friends and neighbours and somebody was already effected due to this. My guru who as huge following from southern Indian city of Hyderabad came to New Jersey in August 2010 with 100 vedic priests and chanted vedic hyms for 9 days with fire to please the mother nature. He realized god and learned all the veda mantras when he was very young. I am not joking this. I always pray my guru for the world peace and well being of all fellow human beings around the world irrespctive of our race, religion and nationaity.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
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