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. CdnJim

    Argue more on an internet page, while the world around us swirls and bounces its way to balance due to the effects of humans. The earth will survive, we want. And all of the Change deniers and Jesus waiters are the equivalent of Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned around him. Say good-bye to the nice civilization people. THe end of the world isn't coming for a hundred billion years when the sun explodes. This form of civilization won't be so lucky.

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

      Sorry to short change you, but the accepted number is 5 Billion years. and it won't explode, it will swell up. A Nova, we don't have a Sun big enough to Super Nova.

      A little bit of Earth might even still be here afterwords.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • MB

      Thank God, A super nova would be just awful.

      January 15, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  2. wetterwatcher

    many of these post are funny, thanks

    January 14, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nickuru

      At least someone has a sense of humo(u)r 🙂 I was a chat host and everyone was saying how Y2K was going to ruin civilization. Guess what? nothing happened! The next date for the end of the world is the December 2012 winter solstice when Earth, Venus, the Sun and the Galactic Center align. Guess what is going to happen?....nothing!

      We either figure out that using safe, Thorium nuclear technology for our energy needs or we will go the way of the dinosaurs. Humans are the only ones who can fix this planet's environments. We are who ruined it in the first place.
      Some of us are trying to work on Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactor technology, which:
      1: The products cannot be used to create nuclear bombs...and
      2: The nuclear wastes which have to be disposed of are 1% or less radioactive and chemically toxic than those of a current High Pressure Water Reactor.

      February 16, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. eric

    HAARP

    January 14, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan the Man

      Planets across our solar system are all seeing global changes, so unless they have HARRP on every planet in the solar system, I doubt it....google solar system chanes

      February 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Total non Sense

    @STRETCH

    Congradulation, you won the MORRON of the day big prize, what you you geet?
    you get to talk to the invisible non exiistant fictional character know as GOD. ho wait... you already do that on your own......

    So maybe we should wo with you what with do with other peoples who talk to themself........

    Idiot like you should be alowed to own/be near/operate a computer.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • swtaylor

      My God (non sense) learn how to spell,etc..Talk about idiots.. You (is) one..lololol

      January 16, 2011 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
    • varier

      Ihave yet to see someone reject god on the death bed. Everyone gets to him some before the death bed.

      January 16, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  5. debbie338

    Science, schmience. We all know the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal is the cause of our weather problems. God's angry at us for accepting gays, so he punishes the world. Just ask Cindy Jacobs.

    January 14, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. stephen towers

    I think the only phenomena responsible for the world's bizarre weather is 21 12 2012 , i suggest you look this date up ,google it , it explains what has already started,and what will happen. the end.

    January 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • swtaylor

      Don't be a fear monger ( stephen towers), your already an idiot.Stop while your behind......hahahaha

      January 16, 2011 at 3:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan the Man

      This article is WRONG... It is the weakening magnetic field being hit by heighten solar storms is causing this weather, seismic activity and the deaths of the animals. Research it. Google it! Google "South Atlantic Anomaly" – It's a 3000 mile hole in the magnetic field protecting earth. The earth is responding, trying to repair as this happens with eruptions from volcanoes. We have seen 5 erupt and several awaken in Jan alone. It will only get worse. Do your research!

      February 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jurgen

    HAARP is the problem

    January 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan the Man

      There is changes happening to all planets in our solar system like earth, so unless they have HARRP on every planet.......

      February 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. DeenReen

    OK that makes a whole lotta sense dude.

    http://www.being-anon.it.tc

    January 14, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SSArt

    They forgot to mention one of the big reasons the weather is jacked up around the world the last 6 months or more is due to the Gulf Stream being almost non-exsistent if not dead.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David

    Dang it is frightening how many absolute loons there are, and to think CNN goes for a slightly more educated demographic then does FOX, National Enquirer, Weekly World News, etc.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank Tillery

      I must respectfully disagree with you David. Demographics has little to do with it. Ignorance can be fixed but stupidity...well, I am sure you understand.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • YetAnotherBob

      Sorry, wrong again. CNN has more fluff, Fox has more news. Both try to have more loons. I think Huffington Post is winning with the loons though. The loons include comments and talking heads. I read them both.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • ken here, chicago,il

      CNN is losing! Fox has more viewers than the other networks combined. In fact, more Democrats watch Fox than CNN! CNN caters to the poor and the dumb, i.e., Democrats.

      January 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Phil, Ohio

    2010 ties world record for warmest on record: Environmental Notebook
    http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2011/01/2010_ties_world_record_for_war.html

    January 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • YetAnotherBob

      Every year ties for warmest year on record, also for coldest year on record.

      PT was right, there really is one born every second.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Frank Tillery

    After reading some of the asinine comments posted on this article, there is little wonder why we are having so many social, political and economic problems. This is one of the caveats to the internet's blogging segment. Anyone can note their ignorance at any time, regardless of the subject they are blogging about. These posts have run Ithe gambit from religious paranoia to just plain stupidity...and everything in between. if there is a meterological disaster in our future, we will all be there to blog about it., I'm sure.

    January 14, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth

      "Anyone can note their ignorance at any time...." and you succeeded my friend. "Gambit"? A gambit is a chess move where one sacrifices a piece to gain an advantage.

      January 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • JH1

      Alternate definition of gambit: a remark made to redirect a conversation.

      January 16, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. teepee

    ahhh – end of the world maybe?

    January 14, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Paul

    The weather seems pretty normal to me, I'm in Canada and its really cold and snowy and its January what else do you expect

    January 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Arpad101

    It appears that the bible is suppose to be better at climatology and weather forecasting than anything else. I'll check the bible tonight for tomorrow's weather forecast.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • swtaylor

      And another fool 'chimes in'.....

      January 16, 2011 at 3:40 am | Report abuse |
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