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. svi

    Normal changes in weather have been happening for millions of years, and many of them would destroy our civilization if they happened today. It's not actually extreme – we're just fragile.

    The end of a particular civilization or species is not the end of the world.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      I totally agree but don't tell that to Bible thumpers. who think the end is near. I am glad they are not climatologists or scientist for that matter.

      January 13, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ganesha

      That is very likely the most intelligent comment left here and is undoubtedly true but it is no excuse for us to simply throw our hands in the air and say "We can't help it; it's not our fault". It is our responsibility to be good stewards of the resources we have available to us so that future people can even have a chance at existing.

      January 13, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Ganesha, I totally agree as you said "it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the resources we have available to us so that future people can even have a chance at existing." I am optimistic for the future and that we will find alternative ways so as not to waste ours resources. There are many concerned scientists and environmentalists who are diligently working on this. More funding should be provided and we should be patient and more active to fulfill those goals.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • SophyB

      "The end of a particular civilization or species is not the end of the world."

      Well, no, but it's certainly the end of THAT civilization's or species' world, which is pretty much what I think everyone on here is discussing. Not "By golly, we'll all be gone but thank goodness the world will still be here! Those frogs and polar bears will have a wonderful life without us!"

      January 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Through all of history there was hardly a time when people thought that the world is coming to an end.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ugly kid joe

    We're all dead I tell you.... dead!

    January 13, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Manic Messiah HE HE HA HA

      I feel dead. I need a cup of coffee. then I will perform a miracle and rise up off of the thrown and flush.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Manic Messiah HE HE HA HA

      I meant throne. I strained to hard and had an aneurysm. But I healed myself cause I can do stuff like that.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  3. Diane

    My son is an atmospheric chemistry scientist. He says it should be called global weirding, not global warming.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. LMD

    Simple: The negative energy across the world is causing a ripple effect. Be nicer of Mother Nature will continue her wrath..;)

    January 13, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. solentirs

    this article is a joke... clearly these weathermen are only giving a name to whats going on, and are not really explaining the root cause of this "north atlantic oscillation" or the "la nina". i think they should just give up.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Me

    Well, there you have it.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. twannyboi19

    Why can't people accept that it is the end of the world they always try to use scientist to come up with some bizarre explanations....Just read the bible people it all makes sense.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ohyayer

      I haven't read a single scientific explanation for anything that is more far fetched than Noah's arc, Moses parting the Red Sea, or people living in the desert surviving on magic food.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Ohyayer, I agree and don't forget that the world was created 7000 years ago. Even the Pope admits that Genesis is an allegory and not to be taken as fact.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • loveaustralia

      the world is not ending anytime soon at all, get that mentality out of your head, time to wisen up and do what we've not been doing for a long time, treat the earth with respect, the native australians knew about all this, its so sad that we have been taught to oppress them and keep them that way so that we can extract all the resources. anyways they had real wisdom of living in balance with nature.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rob

    This is what happens when human do not know how to take care of our planet. Human are so destructive, we treat this Earth as a market. We don't respect it. We do not respect the animals, the ocean, rivers, plants, trees, the air. We have caused so much pollution that now we will face the consequences. We made the cause now we will experience the effect.

    The only people that new how to live the right way were the Native Americans. They understood the principle of life. They understood that we are all family, including all life in this planet. They treated everything with respect. But since the European came to the new world and wiped out 95% of Native Americans they destroyed everything. because of their greed and wanting to turn their land into a market we are facing the consequences.

    The earth is re generating itself. This change need to happen. And we need to wake up to this. Wake up and create a change. Start a new way of living.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      As the years goes by we will see more of these natural disaster going. Things will get worse. People need to prepare themselves for this change. Bring awareness and be ready to face whats to come.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Wiserthanthat

    Wow. most of you that have commented wreak of ignorance. when your mass media outlets start telling you actual truths then maybe you could claim end of the world phenomena....just lie down and love the lies like the good little sheep you are. this earth will continue to show her displeasure in the ways you have tortured her until you get the freaking point or until there is no one left to ruin her....and all you freaks that claim your jesus is the only way of solving all of the worlds problems need to gather in one spot, burn some witches, and threaten hell on any who dont follow your advice in the name of a benevolent god. sheeeesh....where has the rational thinking escaped to??

    January 13, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Seth

    How come no one is saying it's global warming.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Of course its global warming but how much of it is anthropomorphic is another issue. Nonetheless we should do everything possible to find alternative ways of getting energy. Such things as solar panels, wind mills etc... are a start even though they are still not economically feasible but with development they will be. Also nuclear fusion is around the corner and it is a safe alternative but takes time to install the infrastructure.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. wake up

    closely watch the connection between the weather in the u.s. and our pressuring israel to give up land in exchange for peace. you will be absolutely shocked if u take the time to truly research it!

    January 13, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. J snoople


    January 13, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. EC

    "Learn to swim
    Mom's going to fix it all soon
    Mom's coming around to put it back the way it ought to be" – Maynard James Keenan

    January 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. loveaustralia

    Time to change the infrastructure to cater for extreme floods many times more than the current as the climatic patterns change we shall also need to create more dams and water storage facilities as the summer shall bring extreme water shortages with rivers drying up.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. OrionStyles

    Russian weather machine, duh.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
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