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. Catie

    Whether this is Revelations or not, I bet a lot of people are now reading Revelations 😉

    January 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kevin

    I thought Bush was to blame for the weather?

    January 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tom

    Maybe you should actually read history. Jesus was a real person. weather he was the son of God & all that is the question.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. john121

    All of you ignorant people who doubt the global warming theory because things aren't warming up in every specific place and instance, AND is actually colder in some areas on some occasions, are simply uneducated/ignorant as to what the true theory of global warming is. Sure it is a bit of a misnomer, especially if simple-minded people just think, 'hmmm, global WARMING... well its colder here so I just debunked that theory.' The truth this is, in simple man's terms, that the average climate around the ENTIRE world will rise, hence GLOBAL warming. As this rise in average temperature takes place, it will cause MORE EXTREME weather. More extreme weather means hotter summers AND colder winters. And that IS happening. The ice caps are melting at an alarming rate because they have been warming up earlier and re-freezing later. That's proven fact, look it up. "Why" however is not proven fact... yet, but there is no globally recognized scientific body on EARTH that disputes the global warming theory. And I'll even site my source! (Wow, do people do that here?) There was a survey taken at YALE this year to see what, even some of our best and brightest young minds, knew about global warming. This survey was published in our local newspaper. I would tell all the skeptics to read the survey – and by all means, please do – but these people are so hell-bent on not believing in global warming because they don't want to have to change or feel guilty for their extreme-consumerism mentality that even ALL the scientists in the world telling them something is true, will not change their mind. Just because something has not been PROVEN a scientific law, does not mean it is not true. Gravity wasn't proven a law for a long time after Newton, but that did not mean it wasn't a FACT before then, it just means that we didn't have the means of proving it YET.
    Anyone with even the smallest amount of common sense and slightest scientific education should reasonably be able to asscertain that we are doing things to this planet that are devestating. If you've ever studied an ecosystem, even if just in high school – maybe just in grade school, it is clear that the deforestation alone (not going to even mention pollution of SO many varieties) that we have done in the past 100 years HAS to have an effect on the Earth's ecosystem. I don't know the numbers off hand, but we have cut down a significant percentage of the worlds forests, and OF COURSE this is contributing to our changing weather. An ecosystem is such a finely tuned machine with every part working together that even slight changes can cause drastic affects on the whole. Its sort of, for lack of a better similie, like a house of cards – one wrong card comes out, every other card is changed (because they fall down). If someone denies this (not the similie which was admittedly weak, the deforestation and global warming bit), two things are possible: A) They are simply and possibly to no fault of their own, UNEDUCATED. B) They know in the back of their mind that it IS true, but can't let themselves admit it, for any number of reasons. If you find yourself denying these facts ask yourself, 'am I uneducated? Do I really know anything about the Earth and how ecosystems work or do I just hate the people telling me this and therefore disagree? If you don't fall into the uneducated category then you are truly being IGNORANT. Do our country and our world a favor and please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, COME TO TERMS WITH A FACT!

    January 14, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • jt

      You shot yourself in the foot when you called the people ignorant. That means they have a lack of knowledge, so all that you rant about makes no sense to us poor ignorant folks. Try again and this time, don't be so condescending!

      January 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • FirstResponder

      Attention everyone: Please read and re-read this post by John121 – he has correctly described the nature and severity of the problem. EVERYONE needs to WAKE UP and DO YOUR PART to help slow down our trip to global meltdown. So what can you do? 1. Move to a place where you don't need to heat or cool your home. If you can't do that, then heat your home less in winter, and wear lots of warm clothes, and cool your home less (or not at all) in summer. 2. Buy things that are made or grown locally, not made or grown far away. 3. Telecommute or move closer to work, and commute via human power or mass transit or carpool, NOT by driving yourself to work. 4. Buy USED things locally. Try not to buy new things and try not to buy anything that has to be shipped to you. 5. Buy whole foods, not packaged or processed foods. 6. Take your vacations at HOME and ride a bike or hike locally, don't drive or fly anywhere unless ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. 7. Eat organically grown foods that didn't pollute the earth in the growing process. 8. DO NOT eat chicken, fish, beef, pork, or any animal product unless you raised the animal yourself. 9. Curb your purchases such that your total output of trash is at most one small bag per week; the less the better. 10. Find out what toxic materials are contained in things you want to buy, or what toxic materials were released in the manufacturing process. If you aren't sure that no toxic materials were involved, just DON'T BUY IT.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • john121

      How is that shooting myself in the foot, other than the fact that the first line may isolate the very people to whom I am speaking? People are either being ignorant, definition: uninformed; unaware or they are simply uneducated in general and don't understand the concepts at hand. Also, calling a spade a spade is different than being condescending.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • john121

      Thank you firstresponder. I didn't have the energy to get into all of that, but I agree with you. While all of this sounds extreme, we have created a situation where extreme measures are necessary. If we (the "1st world" nations) hadn't taken our consumerism to the extreme state that it is in today, and had as a nation/world lived more moderately, we wouldn't be in the position we are in, requiring such extreme actions to be taken. If everyone would just do HALF of the things firstresponder listed, we would have a HUGE impact on the problems we are still creating. Who knows if it would be too little too late though. If we keep the mentality of not changing, either because we believe it is already a hopleess cause or we don't believe we're doing anything wrong in the first place, we will most certainly destroy the Earth. Maybe not in 50 years, maybe not even in 1000 years, but we WILL destroy the planet, if we don't make changes.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • jt

      So if you are genuine in your address. do you always demean the very people you are speaking to, and then expect to have any credibility? That my friend is a sorry way to try and bring a point across to someone/anyone! Everything else after that point is meaningless!

      January 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • jt

      And NO, we wont destroy the planet. Earth will be just fine. Humans may be extinct, but Earth will be just fine. As U2 says...With or without you!

      January 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • john121

      jt, please read your reply to Phil regarding plants expelling O2... seems as if you are being slightly hypocritical. Oops, I hate when that happens.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • john121

      Ok jt, I can get on board with that. Earth will probably destroy us before we have a chance to destroy Earth. You're right, I got caught up and WAS being a little extreme, thanks for calling me on that. However, the point is that we need to change.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • jt


      January 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • john121

      See, I really am open for reasonable conversation about this/anything. Admittedly, I was originally ranting. My problem clearly isn't with people like you who do seem to be educated and not ignorant. If more people could be OPEN to dialogue on both sides of an issue, we would not only live in a more pleasant social/political environment, but we would solve a lot more of our problems than we do with polarized opposites.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • truthseeker07

      I completely agree with you John. Have you ever heard of the HAARP project or Chem trails? Check them out and make your own opinion. I think Geoengineering is contributing to the extreme weather along with everything you said. I've just started researching it and it's scary to see how man is manipulating the weather and cannot see how it will have a lasting impact on our planet.

      January 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • john121

      I don't know anything about the Chemtrails yet, but I HAVE heard about HAARP, but haven't done enough objective research to weigh in on it (I know, funny concept here, lol), I only know what I saw on Jesse Ventura's "Conspiracy Theory" (so clearly, I need to do more). But it does sound like there is more to it than the gov. is telling us, granted thats what the show wanted to make it look like. Scary concept, if they truly are controlling weather and such. That doesn't sound like a very good idea to me, since we have no idea what consequences that may have. And I certainly wouldn't put it past the government to take that risk without knowing the consequences. Did you know that before the first atomic bomb was detonated, the great scientific minds that created it were truly UNSURE if the reaction would stop where they wanted or continue with all matter destroying everything. They took that risk. This is a true fact people! They thought it would do what it ended up doing, but they TRULY were not sure if they would destroy ALL life. Look it up, if that sounds extreme.

      January 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • YetAnotherBob

      So, earth is warming, and the ice caps are melting. That means sea level is rising. They even have figures for it.

      I remember reading 30 or so years ago that the highest point in the State of Florida is only 30 feet above sea level, with most of the state less than 5 feet above sea level (at high tide).

      WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. remember when Miami Beach and Tampa Bay were still cities? or when rockets could still be launched from the Cape?

      Oh, wait, Miami Beach and Tampa are still cities, and they are launching rockets from the cape. The everglades (mean elevation 1 ft) and the keys are even still there. But, sea level has been rising for 20 years or so. Just ask Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore or his Scientists. It even says so in the movie. So, Florida must be an illusion.

      Or maybe Saint Al was wrong?

      January 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cold War Veteran

    If that was meant for me, Catie, thank you for saying 'thank you."

    January 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff

    if you go back to the late 1800's and early 1900's you will find reports of the same kind of things going on. Huge hurricanes (1887 and 1900 2 of the strongest hurricanes ever hit the gulf coast around Galveston), devistating floods and earthquakes, and very abnormal weather. Its all part of the cycles the earth goes through all in different cycles, sometimes those cycles overlap. The Ice age was due to an overlap in these cycles. People saying read your Bible because this is all in there aughta try reading it themselves becaue this is not in there.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. john121

    Sorry, wrote that on my blackberry, which made for a few mistakes in the editing process...

    January 14, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. yodaddy

    i think the world has been slipped a Jefferey

    January 14, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. steve

    i am ready for god,beam me up scotty !!!!!!

    January 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. peggy

    It's Precession. The Earth's axis is changing. Which it does every so many thousands (millions?) of years. The North Pole is off by 10 degrees and they have added another astrology sign to fill in the fact that the Earth is not at the same tilt anymore. So, the weather will change as well. Fact – ice floats. Ice bergs are melting into the oceans, this causes heavier water, causing more weight on the Earth's crust. So, you get big earthquakes. More water in the oceans, means more water in the atmosphere. More floods.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • jt

      a pound of water will make a one pound ice block. It floats because of density, not weight!

      January 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dean

      The issue is not with 'heavier water'. One theory is that water is being 'trapped' in the northern hemisphere by damming up streams and rivers – thus changing the weight distribution. Another is that the poles are shifting (which has happened a number of times for unknown reasons).

      January 14, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Larry

    It's Bush's fault

    January 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • YetAnotherBob

      Yep, Its Obama's fault, or Bush's fault, or Clinton's fault, or Bushes fault, or Regan's fault, or Carter's fault, or Ford's fault, or Nixon's fault, or Johnson't fault, or ...

      January 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. al bundy

    Catie, who is the reasonable person to whom you are referring?

    January 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. john121

    Peggy, the astrological sign was actually left out of the original signs because it was more convenient for there to be 12 rather than 13. Do a little reading.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. al bundy

    Catie, no seriously I was wondering which person you found to be reasonable? Was it john121?

    January 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ficheye

    If the comments are not prescreened.... where is my comment?

    January 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
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