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. John

    I think Sarah Palin is to blame for something she did or didn't do at some point in time.

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

      The only things we know for sure is that she can see Russia from Alaska, and she likes to quit public office. Oh, and that the vast majority of Americans thinks she's unqualified to be president.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • hulubaby

      Sarah Plain is so ignorant, she makes Glenn Beck look like a college graduate.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      Go Palin 2012!!! That is the only way Barry gets reelected with %9 unemployment.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Howard

      Jusitn Bierber's fault.. I blame that little monster!

      January 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      No waw this is all Bush's fault. No, wait; it's global warming (still Bush's fault). All that snow and ice=global warming. If it's too cold=glabal warming.Too hot or too cold=golbal warming. Too much or too little rain=global warming. Here's a solution to global warming the liberals haven't mentioned yet; we should all stop breathing! I'm waiting for Al Gore first and then I will follow.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Lecter, Ph D.

      John, don't be like the liberals and EXPLOIT a serious situation such as the weather, or a shooting, for that matter.

      As for one person here who stated Bush is to blame for climate change: climate change started decades ago. Al Gore just figured out a way to make money off of it- $100 million and counting since he left office.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Edward Grant

    So in essence, the 'weird weather' is simply another variation in the Earth's climate pattern...and the Earth's climate is something that has been going on since before mankind left his dirty little footprints in the mud of the Euphrates. Too bad mankind always tends to think in terms of his own, limited lifespan!

    Go back to bed, folks, the sky is not falling.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve K

      Well said!

      January 14, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • paulbark

      Go ahead and keep you head stuck in the sand. 8 of the 10 hottest years on record have taken place this past decade. But just keep on denying the the peril of our lives.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Geez

      paulbark, you mean the falsified records that dont really go back that far? Hmm. No thanks. Yes, the earths temp might be trending upwards but there is no reason to believe it wont trend naturally downward. Theres no proof its manmade either.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike H

      Unfortunately, beneath the chaotic localized weather events the trend of rising global average temperatures continues unabated.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • SteveH

      Paul just how long have we been keeping official records.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      Too bad insurance companies are already pricing climate change into policies. Perhaps not man made but here to stay. Lot of evidence massive increase worldwide of livestock is more to blame than SUVs (methane many times stronger greenhouse than CO2). The Vegans may be right but their diet sucks though. Give me steak or give me death.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      You have just been rick rolled by the planet earth. Thank you for playing!

      January 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • KD

      @ paulbark, so you can tell me the weather that occured in the US in March of the year 23,000 BC? I have been trying to get the records of that year. I am working on collecting the data going back a billion years......

      January 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      Yep the tree rings going back to since before Christ and the ice cores going back a half million years don't count to the right wing nuts. I guess they wouldn't, considering they believe the earth is only 5000 years old anyway.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunny Guy

      >> paulbark, you mean the falsified records that dont really go back that far? Hmm. No thanks. Yes, the earths temp might be trending upwards but there is no reason to believe it wont trend naturally downward. Theres no proof its manmade either.

      A lot of people only believe what they want to believe. There are no "falsified records", and there is no "might" about the trend. It's interesting that nowadays, the less a person knows, the quicker they are to pass judgement on a matter. Everyone's an expert - except the poor scientist who devotes his life to researching a matter. It can't end well for us. ... But we insist on learning that the hard way, it seems.

      Sunny Guy

      January 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • John C

      "So in essence, the 'weird weather' is simply another variation in the Earth's climate pattern"

      No, in essence you shouldn't over-generalize things. Of course there is natural variability to the climate of the Earth, but you are being foolish if you dismiss the impact Man has had on planet Earth. We can still find signs of previous life that left their mark on the air, water, and earth. Surely the CO2 PPm rising as quickly as it has in the last 100 years is leaving it's mark on the Earth.

      CO2 increases the potential for energy to be stored in the atmosphere. That doesn't always mean you have hot extremes, it means that the variability can be more violent than usual. The heat transfer is more powerful.

      A good indicator of warming would be near the North Pole, where planetary orbit is not as variable. There you can clearly see warming anomalies and an increasingly powerful 'Polar Vortex'. Of course there is room for error and natural variability, but what do we have to lose from making our cities more efficient and throwing less pollution in the air?

      January 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Burnthorn

      The tree rings and ice cores verify that the Earth was warmer during the Medieval Optimum than it is today... long before the indudstrial revolution and the automobile. The Earth is just like a woman... it has natural cycles. Man-made global warming is a myth and science proves it. By the way... the environment is much cleaner now in developed countries then it was in the 1950's and 1960's. Environmentalism is a good thing but sometimes... in fact many times... it is corrupted for economic or political gain (i.e. Al Gore).

      January 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thersa

      The Pentagon's theory a couple years back was that warming would shut down the Atlantic ocean currents and cause massive cold spells like this. There was something in the news a week or so ago about some initial findings confirming the beginnings of it. The Pentagon doesn't give a -- about political correctness. It just wants to be ready.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Floyd

      Edward Grant: Got it in one post for the win!

      January 14, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tery

    ITS HAARP working overtime.

    January 14, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Knowledge

      THANK YOU!! The government's ability to manipulate the atmopshere and ionosphere with HAARP has been around for quite some time and they began unannounced tests on 1.1.11 – the birds and the fish were just the beginning. The government can artifically manipulate the weather through shockwaves and the electromagnetic abilities of HAARP. RESEARCH IT PEOPLE

      January 16, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. Inspector Clouseau

    Birds dropping out of the sky, massive fish kills, Australia under water along with Brazil and Sri Lanka. This is just the prelude to the end of the world on 21 December 2012 🙂

    January 14, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Gabby

      You should go to CNN Archives and look up the discrediting of the 2012 theory.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • hulubaby

      Or just earth's regular natural cycles.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      You guys think too much.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      I'm telling screw CO2 the problem is methane. Which is good news because methane clears out of the atmosphere much quicker. The problem is in order to do so we need most of the world to quit eating meat. I am sure as hell not going to stop so I guess we need to beef up (haha pun) the military to get the rest of the world used to being Vegan.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ManWho

      Sweet the worlds ending December 2012... I'm running up my credit cards!

      January 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Xasthur

      I Hope So!!

      January 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • 11/11/11

      What about November 11, 2011?

      January 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. stmess

    Climate Change? Global Warming? Weird weather?
    It's just another cleansing process that nature has to go through every N number of yrs.
    Enjoy the ride 😉

    January 14, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Xasthur

      We need to show nature who's boss..Nuclear War Now!!

      January 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Flash

    It is human nature to try and find patterns in unlikely spots. Often they are trying to validate an assumption

    January 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      This is true but one pattern that you can't deny is no advanced animal species has ever seen a growth curve for such a long period of time as humans have had since the industrial revolution. Perhaps climate change won't be what gives but something will eventually as our current path is unsustainable for more than another 100 years tops.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • FrankInDen

      It is human nature to try and find patterns. That's a period; the rest is hyperbole.
      Without assumptions, we would likely be extinct. It was an assumption on the part of our forbearer the second time he rubbed two sticks together and recreated fire. And for the first two hours while he was rubbing those sticks together and not much was happening, the naysayers were laughing at him and throwing stones... I am assuming.
      I find nothing wrong with looking for patterns or trying to validate assumptions.
      It is also in human nature to deny even in the face of the obvious and well proven, much to our own demise.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • YetAnotherBob


      Not true. There have been animal species that have seen previously rapid climate changes. in reality, all the animal and plant species now living are seeing the same climate changes you are seeing.

      In other news, tree rings go back more than 10,000 years. Ice cores are still being argued about for the significance and reliability of their records. fossil records often blur out differences with uncertainties of the order of 10's of millions of years. Also, researchers DO falsify records. They also sometimes exclude data that would tend to discredit the results they have promised. This occurs on BOTH sides of the 'Climate Debate'. It seems to happen whenever money is involved. Remember the UN fiasco on the Himalayan glaciers? The UN took a huge hit on it's trustworthiness on that one. What about the email leak dubbed "Climategate"? large numbers of letters on how to ruin the reputations of anyone who dared disagree. The writers were cleared of wrongdoing by each other. But, the smearing of those mentioned in the emails DID happen.

      Real Science often has real squabbles and some ugly battles. There was one like that between Newton and Leibniz. This is not a new phenomenon. It sometimes takes a couple of generations to let the emotions cool. It took 70 years to accept Continental Drift. More than 50 for genetics.

      The 10th Century climate was much warmer than the current climate. The 13th Century was much colder, both by more than 2 degrees Celsius. Possibly by as much as 5. The same is true of the 14th Century BC and the 12th Century BC. These differences are mild compared to those of 40,000 years ago or those of 170,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age ended and began, respectively. there were also drastic climate events 70,000 years ago and 1.5 Million years ago.

      The largest climate changes appear to have been approximately 65 Million years ago and 450 Million years ago. There was also a major disruption around 240 million years ago.

      So yes, climate change does happen. It appears to happen on Mars also. The other planets we don't know enough about to say yet. As to why it happens, well, that jury is still out. Statistical evaluation of the evidence both for and against AGW (anthropomorphic global warming) shows severe evidence of tampering with data by both sides.

      The only rational conclusion is that more research is needed. Meanwhile, greater efficency and less reliance on long term stored fuels is good for other reasons.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Julia

    People keep saying the end is coming, the end is coming...not sure what to believe anymore. But if the end is really coming I that my family and I don't suffer at all.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      Don't worry about stocking up on food and generators. When the crap hits the fan all you need is some firearms. Its amazing what you can procure with a 44 magnum.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • sonofgadfly

      asdf: I picture your starved corpse leaning against a tree somewhere, with your .44 still in your hand, and all the bullets still in it.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MikeM

    There's really three phenomenas, the third is, It's President Bush's fault, as always.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • hulubaby

      Nah... He, like all of them, was a pawn to bank CEO's.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      Nah hard to blame a man taken advantage of by much smarter people who only did what he thought was right to show his dad he was not a worthless drunk. He just failed in epic fashion and made the right have to resort to claiming it was the Dems in 2006 that ruined everything. Still to run a ship this far aground I agree it takes bipartisanship.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • sonofgadfly

      "Phenomenon" is singular. "Phenomena" is plural. What's "phenomenas"?

      January 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Thorrsman

    What "bizarre weather"? Seems pretty much the usual "unusual" weather we've been having for the last fifty years.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Scott

    2012 is almost here. hmm... you never know.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. thatguy

    this crap has nothing to do with Jesus and the end of the world weather patterns have been doing this since the birth of earth and alot of it is natural selection the earth is controlling its own population so leave poor old Jesus out of this

    January 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • dosa

      jesus is actually not that poor .. he is the son of god

      January 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. hulubaby

    Who cares about global catastrophes!

    I want to know if if congresswoman Giffords is on solid foods yet?!

    January 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Daremo1111

    11:11 since 87. The same yr Ollie North first said the name osama bin laden on tv. I was 16 at the time yet the instant the 2nd plane hit I told the people there who did it. Why did a 16 yr old remember the name of what Ollie called the most dangerous man in the world, and everybody in the government didnt. My mistake, they offered him to bill when he was in office. Apparently he had done nothing wrong at the time....................

    January 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. hulubaby

    Who cares about global catastrophes!

    I want to know if if congresswoman Giffords is on solid foods yet?!

    January 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DDDDD

    i tell you what, we can all predict that more is to come? imagine Jesus predicted this 2000yrs ago, so i am not worried at all, i am praying to make amends and repent in the name of Jesus, though i shall die, by the grace of god i will inherit eternal life, harden not your heart all these disasters point to the coming of Jesus, what will you do, when you see Jesus coming in glory, stars falling from the sky, the moon as red as blood and the sun darkened, may shill weep, i am telling you, the time is now, seek JESUS science cant save YOU

    January 14, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • underarock

      Those are called meteorites, lunar and solar eclipses... Don't panic if someone walks up with a small metal object, flicks it open and a flame comes is called a "lighter".

      January 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yeah right

      Nut job.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
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