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. Name*RoBoBrian

    The Myan Prophacy....bad weather...asteroids....earthqakes and a bad economy....increase in technology.

    January 13, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. thefrumepter

    Why is this news? There is no such thing as bizarre weather, weather is weather, nature has no conscious, no kindness or ill will.
    Weather patterns have changed since forever and will continue long after humanity is gone, why do we need to try and explain it?

    January 13, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. silverman4

    Life is like a weather.....

    January 13, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      I dated a woman once who's last name was Storm. She wasn't too environmentally friendly.

      January 13, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Yves Joseph

    All these theories and speculations!! THE TRUTH IS THAT JESUS IS ABOUT TO RETURN!!! Stop lying to the people for your hopes in continuing in sin... Accept Jesus and his teachings.... The time is at hand... you might laugh now but later you will remember these words... GOD BLESS YOU ALL ........JESUS LOVES YOU,, start loving him back...

    January 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Come_to_Jesus

      Bible Prophecy

      Messiah's Return

      The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha'Mashiach in Hebrew) will return twice –

      – First, "as a thief in the night" – FOR those who waited in faith ( the "Rapture")

      – Second, "every eye shall see" – WITH those who waited and endured in faith.

      We believe a minimum of 7 years will separate these two events . . .

      The prophecies of the coming Apocalypse must be fulfilled before His return (after the "Rapture.") We are told the coming "Apocalypse" will last exactly 7 (360 day) years. We are told much will happen during this period of time which will separate the "Rapture" when Jesus (Yeshua), the Messiah, will return for those who wait in faith ("as a thief in the night") from His return to rule and to reign ("and every eye shall see") at the very end of the coming "Apocalypse" to save the remnant of Israel from the armies of the world which will one day gather against her ...

      The Bible Prophecies . . .

      Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha'Mashiach in Hebrew) warns first there will be false Prophets and messiahs who will rise. However, Jesus says when He returns there will be no question it is Him. When He again steps forth from Eternity every eye will see Him "coming in the clouds" with millions from Heaven, in power and great glory . . .

      "Then if anyone says to you,

      ‘Look, here is the Messiah (Christ)!’ or ‘There!’

      Do NOT believe it!

      For false messiahs (christs) and false prophets will arise

      and show great signs and wonders (miracles!)

      so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

      See, I have told you beforehand." (Meaning ... this is a prophecy)

      "Therefore if they say to you,

      Look, He is in the desert!’

      Do not go out;

      or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’

      Do not believe it.

      For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west,

      so also will the coming of the Son of Man be."

      (Matthew 24:23-27)

      January 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seetheway

      Isaiah warned that when we rebel against God and stay in our sin, he is angry and will destroy us. Repent all of you in the world for your sins and accept Jesus Christ as you Lord and Savior, and see if He won't bless you!

      January 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • crazyidiot

      And this is why we are not told the truth "because the religious crazies come out"!

      January 13, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZP

      a lot of people are coming back......there will be a resurrection you know. Jesus does not fit the requirements of the messiah. Do you know what the requirements are? I do. He ain't the messiah

      January 14, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. your friend

    of cors politions distort the facts. ti makes them look beter.

    January 13, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Stella

    When did the weatherman gain credibility? They are all just guessing!

    January 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. SeaPetal

    And don't forget about the historic flooding in New Brunswick in December it changed the topography. As much water fell as flows over Niagra Falls in one year..... in less than 18 hours. 188mm Then the Sea swells washed away acres and acres of land. All the local weather guy can say is unseasonably warm for two months now.

    January 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Come_to_Jesus

    The Bible warns of great atmospheric and weather upheaval during the coming "Apocalypse" ... both global cooling and global warming lie ahead for mankind (men and women) ... all those who are left on Earth after the coming "Rapture" ...

    January 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      If you say so. Look at the climate changes over the history of the earth, over 100 of millions of years, if not billions and it fluctuated much more than now. We had repeated ice ice ages going back and forth well before humans ever existed. Where was the apocalypse then?

      January 13, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • SophyB

      Exactly where does it say this? Chapter and verse, please!

      January 13, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • ODkush

      Really dude? Do you really think the apocalypse is happening from the bible?
      We all know the world is ending in 2012 and has nothing to do with the bible, people who believe in such conspiracies should know better...

      January 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Come_to_Jesus

    And, there will be unimaginable and exceedingly great storms and hurricanes ...

    "And there will be signs in the Sun, in the Moon, and in the Stars;

    and on the Earth distress of nations, with perplexity,

    the sea and the waves roaring"

    (Luke 21:25)

    January 13, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      That is ridiculous

      January 13, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Come_to_Jesus

    Dont get Left behind

    January 13, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      That is also ridiculous

      January 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. waldo

    Come to jesus how do you know are you a prest and u go to church or no

    January 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. AhhhRUN

    The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know My name is the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon thee.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. waldo

    Ahhrun where is heaven and where is hot hell

    January 13, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Heaven is my wife and hell was my ex wife

      January 13, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. G

    Its simple really and it is something we should expect more often now. Rising global temperatures=more evaporation=more precipitation.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mickmeister

    The ninety-something year old guy who used to live downstairs from me was convinced that all the wierd weather we'd been having was caused by our space missions.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
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