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. rtw24

    say freaking god, jesus again and i will blow your brains out....

    January 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. misterking23

    Whats happening to our world?

    January 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Who names this stuff?

    Here we have a global climate pattern that kills thousands of people, and they give it a cutesy name, El Niño??? (El Niño is Spanish for "the boy")

    It sounds like a dessert at Taco Bell "I'll take two Burrito Supremes, a diet Coke, and an El Niño, to go, please"

    Even worse, the anti-immigration folks are going to somehow blame Mexico for this, I just know it.

    I propose we rename this "The Southern Disturbance" or perhaps something scarier like "Cyclic Sea Temperature Anomaly".

    January 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • YetAnotherBob

      Spanish missionaries named the 'El Nino' event. named it after the Christ Child. only later was La Nina (sorry, I don't do the tilded letters, American,) named as the opposite of El Nino. They are talking about a warm current that forms across the south pacific and moves warm moist air to the West coast of South America. It in turn affect the movement of warm moist air from the South Atlantic into South America. That domino's out to change the weather for everyone else. The article explains it better than I do. I would also recommend Wikipedia, and as always, Google is your friend.

      It isn't Mexico's fault, you are at least a thousand miles too far north.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. artistchd

    Awesome Forces Mother Earth's Divine Nature = Her Weather = no "La Nina"- "El Nino" lies says CK-NWCA + AmeriAfrindian ArtistCHD....

    January 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Charlie

    Let's see.... if your on the CNN discussion board, we blame Sarah Palin. If we're on the Fox News discussion board, we blame Baraigh O'Bama.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. artistchd

    The Awesome Forces of Mother Earth's Divine Nature = Her Weather = no "La Nina"- "El Nino" lies says CK-NWCA + AmeriAfrindian ArtistCHD....

    January 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. someguy02

    I was in northern Greenland last year during fall and the temperature rose to almost 70 degrees F, and got rain for almost 2 weeks straight, chunks of ice falling from glaciers all the time. We are talking the northernmost piece of land in the world, and I could wander around with a light jacket. Even the Inuits were shocked about the temperature and rain.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. samm

    Has anyone considered that this may have something to do with the volcano that erupted last year? All that ash creates havoc with the weather.....

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

    Two phenomenon are causing the weather? No. it's just one. Perhaps you've heard of it. It's called GOD.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lightbulb

    After what I witnessed yesterday while standing on my balcony looking west, I believe this article describes only part of the why behind what is happening with the weather. To a friend, I had pointed out all the jets flying high overhead from west to east. Look at all those contrails, I had told him. Those aren't contrails, he had replied, they are chem-trails. He explained the difference and urged me to Google "chem-trails." After watching a few of the linked videos that came up in the search, I am now concerned that the "experts" are missing what should be integral piece of any environmental puzzle. How many jets fly through the air every day? How many pounds of chemicals and compounds do their engines spew while flying? We can see by their "chem-trails" that a lot of "stuff" comes out. We may revel in the beauty of a jet (or jets, in my case yesterday) moving across the sky, but have we lingered around long enough to watch what happens to the chem-trails each jet leaves behind in the sky? How they seem to linger around? How long each takes to "dissipate" (several hours)? And all those compounds in the sky must come down....thanks to gravity. Think about how many jets are in the air at any given point in time each day. Then try to conceive of the huge amount of chemicals and compounds that then must fall to the ground at some afterward. Because of winds aloft, those chemicals and compounds can be carried many miles away from the jet's original path in the sky. For those of you who live under or near an airport's flight path, spend some time counting the number of jets that fly so close to you. While you may not actually see their chem-trails, it is actually more concerning for you since the jets are so close and the chemicals / compounds more quickly fall to the ground. I remember when these "weather phenomena" began happening frequently (early 1980s) and how the weather and environmental "experts" scrambled to explain the rogue weather around the world. Now that we have identified the globe's various temperature changes, let us now research it a bit more. I want to see that map of temperature gradients, sure. But now I want to see a color-coded overlay of all commercial and military flight patterns for a given year along with another overlay of all coal-fired power plants (et al) around the world. Of course there's a linkage between what is in the air (that then must fall down) and the weather we're experiencing on the ground!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sorry to inject some scientific facts into your argument but...

      Jet contrails are water vapor. Like when you breathe out on a cold day, the warm humid air meets the cold dry ambient air and forms fog, or what we call 'clouds' when they are in the sky.

      A jet engine does burn fuel, a mixture similar to Kerosene. But keep in mind that the jet is traveling at around 500 mph, and is burning fuel at a rate of around 2.4 nautical miles per gallon, or collectively, at a rate of over 40 MPG/passenger for something like a A340 with over 200 passengers.

      So, lets say you observe a plane for around 15 seconds as it covers five miles of has burned around 12 gallons of fuel.

      BUT, it has distributed it's exhaust over five miles of open sky, and Jet engine exhaust is not as bad as car/truck exhaust in some respects, and worse in other respects.

      Therefore the carbon emission of the plane flying overhead is not a whole lot different than that of a semi-truck. Also factor in that a large airplane may be carrying over 200 people, so 100 or 150 cars carrying those same people would produce much more order of magnitude greater.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • truthseeker07

      Lightbulb is correct and to the naysayers...... water vapor doesn't have bits of aluminum and concrete in it. Do your research before you respond. This has been going on a long time and if you research even more you will see that there are high amounts of aluminum in our food and water supplies. Again, geoengineering is one piece of the puzzle here.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • YetAnotherBob


      Concrete doesn't stay up in the air very long. Don't believe me, go outside and drop a rock. see how many days it is in the air. (I've tried it, rounded to the nearest day, it is zero!)

      Most of a jet engines exhaust is water vapor and carbon dioxide. There is some nitrogen dioxide produced, and a little unburned fuel. You don't see that. The part you see, the contrail is as a previous respondent stated, water vapor. Commonly called ice. That is the white part. The other stuff is too diffuse to see. If the air where the plane is flying is too warm, you don't see the water either. The stuff the first poster was concerned about is invisible. It's also pretty small. the ozone in the high atmosphere burns it up. Sunlight makes new ozone out of the oxygen in the atmosphere. there is a little increase in UV from sunlight until that happens, but you will need a very accurate lab instrument to measure it. Aluminum falls out fast too. Naturally occuring dust is easily an order of magnitude higher than any non-hydrocarbon output, unless an engine exploded.

      If you really want to be concerned, consider that most aircraft flush the toilet to outside. Oh, and watch out, birds do that too.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MsMHS

    Tell me again - global warming??? When is the media and the left-wing scientists going to wake up and realize there is no global warming. We in Florida may not have had snow but our pipes were frozen.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Top1

      Not the brightest bulb in the pack huh?
      Better for you to just get back in the kitchen and let the smart people do the thinking for you.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sad state of public education in America

      I learned this in fourth grade, but sadly you did not. "Weather" is "The state of the atmosphere at a given time and place" and "Climate" is "The meteorological conditions, including temperature, precipitation, and wind, that characteristically prevail in a particular region".

      I also learned in fourth grade that there is a complex relationship between sea temperatures, wind patterns, and even sunshine exposure. I was surprised to learn, as a fourth grader, that often colder air produces milder winters, because colder air can carry less moisture which gets released from those white fluffy things in the sky in the form of snow.

      So, for example, if there were a rise in sea temperature or global temperature, as I learned about in Fifth grade, this would potentially cause more rain in summer, and also more snow in Winter.

      Therefore, faraway places such as New York might have large amounts of snowfall, or low-lying areas such as New Orleans, might be more susceptible to flooding, just theoretically.

      Of course that's all simply a theory, we all know the man in the sky is the one who controls the weather, and thunder is the sound of angels bowling.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. artistchd

    And our Ancient African Ancestral Authorities Spirits are bringing down upon these hateful European-Caucasoid CaucAsians all manner of flooding heavy rains, along with freezing-Heavens Hades Hell Fires of blazing burning desires!!!! Reveals ArtistCHD + ColorKingdomNWCA. period.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bob

    damned freemasons!

    January 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DKM

    Nothing wrong with the weather...there's just too many people living in the wrong place... promote planned parenthood and birth control! Let's get a handle on this out-of-control breeding by humans and resolve most of the problems that this planet is facing. We're suppose to be the intelligent species...???

    January 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • FirstResponder

      FINALLY – someone who has EXACTLY identified the problem and the right solution. I hope everyone reads and understands your comment!!

      January 14, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • YetAnotherBob

      Too many people, Something needs to be done.

      I remember there was once a man who called himself Hitler who as you request DID SOMETHING about the population. I don't think he is very well regarded today.

      You might want to look at your beliefs and consider if there isn't something there that could be improved.

      Of course, you might concider old Adolf a hero. I don't.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. backslider

    I believe that C.M. Punk and Nexus may be the true cause of this situation.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
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