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. Arpad101

    The graphic chart does look like a good work of art. Vincent Van Gogh would be pleased.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JC

    Weather patterns are influenced by the suns output. The cold winter was "called" correctly again by those who observed early on in 2010 a lack of sunspots and thus reduced emissions from the sun were going to cause quite a chilly winter. Global warming, sky is falling alarmists might do some reading other than eco propaganda by the usual suspects and understand the relationship before they go dictating their nonsense again.

    January 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • quadro

      There's no doubt there are extremist who disseminate misinformation. But if you're only familiar with the 'propaganda' than you might have been mislead. There is a trove of scientific evidence that indicates the earth has had many cooling periods (ice ages) and warming periods, and it will happen many more times in the life span of this planet.

      Humans may, or may not, have contributed significantly to these natural cycles, but the fact remains, the 'average' temperature on this planet is rising. It could change tomorrow and we could slide into an extended cooling period. Mother nature has the last word. The main issue is: how do we best work within these cooling/warming cycles to continue to provide the resources to feed the ever increasing population of this planet.

      January 16, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan the Man

      GOOD CALL! You got it man.

      February 4, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jesusiscoming

    take this problem more seriously guys.

    January 14, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom Kelly

      Take this more seriously, with a name like yours? Come on Man! Perhaps I should say, "Come on God!"

      January 17, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. Parker

    This article is about bizarre weather, but the knuckle heads leaving comments on this site make the weather seem quite tame.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  5. Parker

    That chart looks like a bad dream I had as a child.

    January 15, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  6. goneballistic

    The real cause for this strange weather is the new found obsession Al Gore has- legumes. You name it, if it is a bean Al has been wolfing 'em down by the bushel. The resultant wind breaking is on a cosmic scale, a huge plume containing countless tons of methane, a greenhouse gas 100x more potent than CO2, rising into our atmosphere.

    The solution? There is none. Al Gore is an elite and therefore not subject to any worldly concerns. Especially those concerns Al wishes the rest of us to sacrifice for, in order glorify his own position. I.E., Al's electric bill runs over 2k a month. How is that for a carbon footprint?

    January 15, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
    • drklassen

      Fact checking and getting the whole story is really not that hard...

      January 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm | 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 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sandra

    its the pole shift its just the start hang on!!!!!!!!!!

    January 15, 2011 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. just look around

    Just look around us people, the weather is crazy, getting crazier all the time. Pandemics are reaching us, children are killing each other for no real reason, birds and fish just dying in large numbers with no exact cause of death just speculation, solar flares from the sun are getting stronger and are going to reach a peek soon, civilized countries are invading other countries with questionable reason and no real plan for fixing what is reportedly wrong, So many still dying in Hatti 1 year after the quake, Politicians completely losing their minds, decency and morals. citizens feeling like they have to run out and buy guns for protection, education and health care systems falling apart, illegal immigrants migrating like ants, metal detectors in schools, full body pat downs at airports,,,, etc. Question is does it really matter why??? Fact is the world is going to hell quickly and it can't be fixed, the only hope the human race has at this point is to start over with a small fraction of the population and yes a belief in god or something like him. now that there is really no fear of a judgment day and when you die it's over, why not take what you can get, which is becoming a very accepted life view, Just ask our politicians.

    January 15, 2011 at 3:28 am | Report abuse |
    • soy sauce

      oh god shut up mr. moral panic. Load of absolute fear-mongering nonsense. Things are the same way now that they always were; in fact they are alot better. You think there wasnt any killing going on and pandemics in ancient times? Think again. Pure moral panic nonsense.

      January 15, 2011 at 4:02 am | Report abuse |
    • just look around

      ya soy sauce, and the last time I checked Rome Fell. This isn't fear mongering, it's the facts of life, hears some more, young offenders act AKA a license to kill for teens, in my opinion, the unbelievable amount of street drugs and people on them not to mention prescription drugs, the amount of people that suffer from mental illnesses, the amount of families who lost their homes and jobs especially in the last few years, the food shortages, the fuel and water problems, the depletion of the ozone layer, the melting Ice Caps, I could go on and on, this is not fear mongering it's reality and it's all happening at the same time, I don't know of another time in history when there seemed to be so much "bad news" we'll say. frankly I try not to watch too much news cause it could drive a person crazy. My whole point is arguing over weather it's God coming back or Aliens, or 2012, or HARRP, is ridiculous, what will be, will be, my personal belief is that the human race is too far gone, I have no faith in people as a whole. In my little (yes) little world, people are great life is fine, but when I look out at the big picture I'm afraid I don't have much hope. If you do that's great, good luck to ya.

      January 15, 2011 at 5:20 am | Report abuse |
    • ozone depletion? really?

      what's funny about this is that the ozone started depleting (or started garnering attention around the 70s or 80s. check my numbers because i don't claim to know the exact date. point is that this thing has been going on for a while. but since the complete and utter ban on chlorofluorocarbons, the ozone has actually started to heal minute bits at a time. another thing, antarctica has minimal if any ice cap loss. yes unfortunately the poles do warm faster than the equator, but antarctica has managed to hold its own. the thing with haiti, money is being held up from reaching the people for some random reason and that country has always been the poorest of the west (not in any way saying they deserve it. they deserve everything in the world for the amount of humility they possess). solar flares? really? i'm pretty sure solar flares have indicated diddly squat. they do affect us but in minimal amounts thanks to the electromagnetic field protecting our puny planet. and if you're gonna start saying that countries are attacking at higher rates than before, check out the two world wars buddy. millions of people died within a short span...the world did not end. one small detail i missed, animal die outs happen more frequently than we think. as far as i'm concerned, it's similar (but not related to) the earthquake phenomena form last year. a lot of occurrences in places people live or take notice. massive earthquakes take place all along major fault lines, but many times they happen in areas of low population density. i'm tired. enough said.

      January 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Valecia

      @ Just Look Around..I've been thinking the same thing...the big picture – what is really going on. Only a few will pay attention others will just shrug it off and say to themselves "killings have been going on since mankind" but at this rate that seems like it is never going to stop? Can these killing ever be stop? is what we should be trying to figure out.... he world is being drag through a filthy cesspool that will lead into the depths of degradation....Man has polluted, befouled, perverted, and misused every good thing God ever put within his reach. – I totally understand and agree with you....

      January 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lost and lonely

      More and more people are starting to think outside the box. We have been groomed to not think for ourselves but to believe what we are told by the so called 'experts' we use such a small proportion of our own brains hmmm I wonder why that is? I have read so many forums where people are so quite to diss the one who puts up an argument to the possibility that there could be something else going on. Why is that, fear. Fear mongering has been carried out by the powers that are since the dawn of time to stop us from questioning what really is going on. I like so so so many others out there are beginning to wonder. I know we will never know the truth but why do people find it so hard to believe that things might not be as they seem. I could go on and on and on but hey i'm with you on this one.

      January 18, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. deepwater805

    That graph looks like my dog got sick after eating a box of crayons...

    January 15, 2011 at 6:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. Dan

    Al Gore has the solution. The solution is with one of the many companies with which Al has a financial interest. How do you think he has made close to $1 billion since leaving office. Climate change is real. Man-made global warming is not. Educate yourself to know the difference and don't let Al Gore's of the world prey on your ignorance.

    January 15, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • drklassen

      That Al Gore has put his money where his mouth is, does not invalidate the science behind climate change. There are people who have invested FAR more in the status quo and are making gobs more money than Al Gore. Do you suspect them of malfeasance too? Of course, in their case, they ignore science to make their money—Al listened to it.

      January 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. D Frost

    C'mon! Truth is, even with all of the supercomputers, weather is weather. Ever changing and if they were honest, they'd tell us they really don't know what's going on or what's going to happen. And what ever happening to the global warming crowd? Amazingly silent during all this. That's right. It's not global warming any more. It's global cooling. No. It's climate change. No. It's....we really don't know. Oh, that's right. Just a brief respite in the global warming. Not sure how brief, though. After a year of much colder than normal temperatures and now looking outside at 6 inches of snow and 25 degrees F (for a week) when there rarely is snow and the normal temp is 50, I guess I'm the ignorant one?

    January 15, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • drklassen

      Say it with me: weather is not climate. Now again, on your own. Repeat until you get it.

      January 15, 2011 at 12:23 pm | 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 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jim28625

    Can you say too many people on the face of the Earth putting way too much carbon dioxide and other VOC's into the atmosphere? Far more than the eco system can handle and dispose of on its own. It's warping the mechanisms nature developed over million and millions of years to control the environment. Nature is being swamped by the overburdening demands we humans put upon it. We're going to keep going down hill like this until we can control our population and come to a sustainable level where we can all live in peace and prosperity. We don't have to kill off people to come to a reasonable level. We just have to limit our growth and reduce the number of mouths that we need to feed. The only reasonable way to do that is to limit births in a way similar to what China did. There's just no reason we need to have a replacement person born for each one of us. Families would be much better off with one child or at the very most two. Over the long haul our population would be healthier because the Earth would be healthier and we'd all be better off financially because we wouldn't be competing for the same shrinking pool of resources. That's just one man's opinion though...

    January 15, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  13. a2rjr

    Pagan Goddess Priest' Enjoy hell

    January 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Knowledge

    Hello people – forget the Jesus nonsense – let's talk about SCIENCE. This is CLEARLY and so obviously related to the government's regulation of HAARP shockwaves that can artifically manipulate the atmosphere and ionosphere. If you havent done the research just look up 'HAARP'. The abilities the government has with electromagnetic/shockwave manipulation is beyond anything you have ever imagined. This is DIRECTLY related to the bird and fish deaths as well. All of those animals died from external blows (blunt force trauma) but had no visible sign of injury – these were SHOCKWAVES that killed the birds. It's now affecting the weather as well. PLEASE people open your eyes!!!!

    January 16, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan the Man

      All planets in the solar system are changing though, so unless they have Harrp on every planet, I doubt that!!!

      February 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. LookAndSEE

    People are with out excuse to believe God. Look at nature, either it's beauty or it's harshness, unbelievers can not explain it!
    God set this planet in motion, now it's about over. Jesus is coming soon, religious deception is happening now.

    January 16, 2011 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
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