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. Regina

    TO THE SKEPTICS OF GLOBAL WARMING: Of the 3,000 or so climatologists around the world, about 2,994 of them agree that humans are causing global warming; about 6 of them are global warming skeptics who are bought and paid for by oil companies. Such "fair-minded" "news" organizations as CNN report both sides of the debate as though they are equally plausible, though in reality the global warming skeptics are extremely few in number. Among real climatologists, there is no debate about human-induced global warming–it's real. The real climatologists all agree that global warming is happening, and it's going to get worse. New York, London, Venice are all vulnerable. Please, someone at CNN, hire a real reporter whose not afraid to write up the truth.... and one who knows how to spell (it's "drier" not "dryer," you neophyte).

    January 13, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • baby jeebus

      I'm pretty sure you just made 99% of that up.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. james

    2 words: global warming !

    January 13, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thorrsman

      Two more words: Natural cycle.

      January 13, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mikey

    Or maybe it is a 1,000 year weather cycle like when milk went to $4.00 a gallon it was blamed on the el nino hthey did not want to tell us that the farmers were creedy

    January 13, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Its all due to methane and co2 from cows farting. Just joking.

      January 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. David

    Hmmm looks like there was misinformation on both sides. Let's see what NASA has to say. From NASA's website: "... north at an average speed of 10 km per year, lately accelerating "to 40 km per year," says Newitt. At this rate it will exit North America and reach Siberia in a few decades."

    "Sometimes the field completely flips. The north and the south poles swap places. Such reversals, recorded in the magnetism of ancient rocks, are unpredictable. They come at irregular intervals averaging about 300,000 years; the last one was 780,000 years ago. Are we overdue for another? No one knows."

    "They've also learned what happens during a magnetic flip. Reversals take a few thousand years to complete, and during that time–contrary to popular belief–the magnetic field does not vanish. "It just gets more complicated," says Glatzmaier. "


    January 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fireybuddha

    kewl. i knew it. mini ice age, coming up in a couple years....

    January 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JoeJoe9

    What an idiot. Did ya ever hear of global warming? Ring a bell? Why is they el nino becoming increasingly common? Answer: Global warming. They've already issued danger alerts for Polar bears in the artic as they are drowning due to ice melting at an unnaturally increasingly rapid pace. Anyone who doesn't think this is a problem, is just polarized to their republican position with their heads in the sand.

    January 13, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tyrannasaurus


    January 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Travis

    No matter what you do this weather is going to continue on the same path till the world is back to its original state.
    "IF" the is a GOD he would wipe mankind off the face of the planet. For the sake of all other living orginisms in the planet.

    January 13, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big J

    Same in Kentucky. Heavy snow in the winter really isn't remarkable for this area. I remember back in the 90s we had a snow storm drop two feet. Haven't had one like that since then
    January 1993, 28 " stuck there for 3 days and very cold well below 0.......

    January 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Arpad101

    Back in the 70's everyone was worried about the upcoming ice age. Now it is the reverse.

    January 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. volsocal

    La Nina means warmer east and dryer west, except when it doesn't (like this year). We were supposed to have a bad hurricane season last year. Only one actually grazed the US. The government should stop wasting taxpayer money on anything weather related beyond the 10 day forcast.

    January 13, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Actually, the 2010 Hurricane Season was extremely most active since 2005 and tied for third most active since we've been keeping records. Not sure where you are getting your information.

      January 13, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Wow. First of all, It sounds like you're confused over the meaning of what an "active hurricane season" is. When NOAA and the various other agencies make predictions of tropical activity they are predicting how many named storms will likely form throughout the season and that alone says NOTHING about which of those storms will actually make landfall. There's a big difference.

      Second, the probability of a storm making landfall would be expected to be higher if the season is expected to be active. Sure, it's possible that hardly any will make landfall but that doesn't change the fact that, in general, the probability of landfall is still higher if it's an active season – so we should be on our guard when they make these predictions.

      Third, how can you say this is a waste of taxpayer money and that we should go no further than 10-day forecasts? Meteorologists will make mistakes and the models aren't perfect but we're striving to advance our understanding of these storms so that we can make more accurate forecasts in the future.


      January 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Oops, scratch that last *Third,*

      January 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • pdan

      Somebody should ask the pilots of the planes that are spraying that crap over our heads here every day in LA>

      January 14, 2011 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Canadian Sam

      Ah yes, the old – it didn't hit America so it must have been a good year theory. You need some education about the world.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • dfc58

      El nino does this, but sometimes it doesn't and does something else while la nina dosen't do it on a regular basis but it did this time. It sounds like they're making up this cr@p as they go along. Just open your door in the morning and take a look outside. If it's nice, do something outdoors. If not, stay in and have a beer or twelve and then you can start making up new words for weather patterns that sometime but not always exist except for.....well you know.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Bluejeans

      I agree. I live outside of Chicago and get a more accurate forecast calling family members who live in Iowa. Meterologist is one of the only professions where you can lie through your teeth daily and still have a job the next day.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh in FL

      dude, why do you hate science so much? I don't see studying our environment as wasteful spending. Weather forecasting has come a long way and now helps give ample warning to folks in impending danger from weather related phenomena.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • kbaredge126c

      Bad as in affecting the U.S. mainland. Hurricanes swirling around the ocean don't attract much attention.Unless you are a fish.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
    • cary

      So we should just be completely unprepared and surprised at any and all weather events that happen to us? We should have no warning system in place for hurricanes (which often take 2 weeks to form before they make landfall)? We shouldn't try to give people information for budget planning for heating and air conditioning energy use? We shouldn't try to help farmers in their planning so that we can continue to have an ample and cheap food supply? There are countless benefits to weather models and forecasting, and knowing whether you can play baseball tomorrow afternoon is an afterthought and perquisite to the information gathered and analyzed.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. Robin Thomas

    I think we can all agree that this is entirely the fault of Barack Obama. Or the Republican Party. Or Glenn Beck. Or Nanci Pelosi. Or the Tea Party. Or Israel. Or Vladimir Putin. Or Islaam. Or the Pope. Or...

    January 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      People will blame it on anyone or anything

      January 13, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZP

      you forgot "our fault"

      January 14, 2011 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • CA Ed

      blame it on the weather.

      Everybody knows it's the stupid weather.

      January 14, 2011 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
    • jpf7078

      Thanks for posting one of the most balanced and lucid comments I've read so far. Don't forget sunspots, cellphones and SUVs as potential catalysts as well...

      January 14, 2011 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Blame it on the alcohol.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
    • richard h

      You left out George Bush, Al Gore, and that dangerous monster Barney. Oh well little green men or men in black or clowns. One just never knows! Oh yes I forgot the Nephtalim and Serpant people. So many to blame. I agree it is more fun to do this than realize nature can be more powerful then us.

      January 14, 2011 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
    • JoeyE

      Blame on humans!!!! it's their fault! 😉

      January 14, 2011 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
    • MillyVanilly

      "Blame it on the rain yeah yeah....."

      January 14, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
    • trendo

      Actually–it's all my fault. I accept full responsibility. And if all you kind folks would just mail a $20 bill to Lucifer Bobbles, P.O. Box 17666, New York, NY 10001, I will be more than happy to undo it all.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • rwa

      I think we're all overlooking the role that Britney Spears has played in this.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      I blame it on cow farts.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      I'm listening to Milli Vanilli. Guess where I place the blame?

      January 14, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      You're the best! 😉

      January 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Laurie

    hmmm, Is there really an explanation?I don't feel any more confident with that waste of hot air. I don't feel that the world is prepared for the massive changes that are taking place. We have some Government paid idiot in Italy blaming bird deaths on indigestion from overeating, another idiot saying that they were scared to death. Lets see how much we can take before we realize what the truth is. the list goes on and on and we have the media of scientists paid to tell the general public that it is normal. OK I will take that because the only one suffering will be the messengers with the lies.

    January 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • jerzgrl

      how do you go about life having more faith in conspiracy theories than in scientific evidence? or maybe you have a point, everyone who doesn't agree with your warped perspective is an "idiot". please remove your tin foil hat.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • GoodAdvize

      When I hear scientists say the birds died of overeating I must stop and reconsider who the conspirators are. Not everything can be explained via a scientific method, you know?

      January 14, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Name

      Everything happens for a reason. The reason is science.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • BusyPerson

      Don't forget the floods, volcanos and earthquakes.

      January 14, 2011 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Red

      Maybe the birds all saw Jersey Shore for a moment and thought mass-suicide was was better

      January 14, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  14. Wizard

    If HAARP is able to change weather patterns or even create weather patterns, why aren't they able to change the current weather pattern to prevent flooding, drought or severe storms?

    Or is this an act of HAARP?

    January 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      or maybe haarp has NOTHING to do with the weather.

      haarp can project 3,600,000 watts of power into the atmosphere. the sun deposits 174,000,000,000,000,000 watts of power into the atmosphere. the power from the sun can vary by as much as 174,000,000,000,000 watts. haarp compared to the sun driving the weather is like equating a wet fart to a category 5 hurricane.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Haha wet fart

      January 14, 2011 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
    • richard h

      Maybe this is just weather and we are in way. Why does it have to be conspiratorial or some hocky science idea of Al Gore? I remember bad weather before, and may yet live long enough to see it again. Clean up, fix up, and move forward.

      January 14, 2011 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
    • brillow

      Are farts supposed to be wet?

      January 14, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. bobincr

    Luke 21:25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

    January 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • barbara

      right on , i hear you. its amazing how many are too blind or too stupid to not know this is the EXACT warning of God. he wrote it word for word in this EXACT order as a warning. but you know what... let them continue not believing. he warned us there would be a great falling away, and yep there is. few even believe , thats ok, when they are burning in hell they will wish they had not turned their backs on him. even if we were wrong and there was no God, at least we would not suffer for an eternity as they will when they find out they ARE wrong. God bless all his children. i hope i can bring a few more to his side before its over.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZP


      January 14, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • ZP

      Prophecy GREAT ROARING WATER google Shirat Devorah

      January 14, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Chase

      Wow Barbara really? Read your comment and just see the obvious fact that you are a cruel and negative human being. Despite the truth of apocalypse and god, you have to look at the sure fact that what you say is the worst thing that could happen. Why believe that the weather is due to the end of the world and its God wiping the world clean and all that are saved will be in heaven, etc. Why not believe that we can fight on and that this is as experts say an anomaly. You are not turning anyone to Gods side by preaching that crap....I picture you as the hobo with the cardboard sign "The end is here"....loser....

      January 14, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Newsjoke

      Why are you people dragging god into tuis? These are weather patterns that have been occuring for thousands of years at least, it's not punishment, or the first stages of Armageddon, it's just wheather. I suppose blaming god, and saying that he's just punishing the wicked, is a convenient way to ignore that we may carry a certain responsibility for the way the weather is behaving, I have found that you religious types tend to hate taking responsibility for anything, since it's all gods will, or satam's temptation that causes thungs to happen on our planet. Like kids blaming someone else for the mess in their rooms, when in fact it's the kids who made the mess. If god exists, don't you think he/she/it would want us to admit our mistakes, and face the consequences, instead of blaming him or his/her/it's supposed fallen angel? I do. Otherwise what would have been the point in creating us in the first place? Come to think of it, what was the point in creating us anyway?

      January 14, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • HMMM

      I think it's funny to quote a passage from the bible and to think it GOD wrote it. No wonder we act the way we do in certain regions of the world. Can't wait till relegion is gone.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      barbara – you are right. cuz there has NEVER been heavy snow or extreem floods. ever before! since the time of jesus christ global weather has been perfect, with nary an excessive drop of rain, right? *rolleyes*

      January 14, 2011 at 5:02 am | Report abuse |
    • cosmicsnoop

      Whatever, there is no Hell and God does not play such petty games as man does by punishing people. We are free beings and only love awaits us. There is no punishment for our actions, otherwise we would not be free and that would be a direct contradiction to the idea of free will. Even Hitler went to Heaven. Read "Conversations with God".

      January 14, 2011 at 6:09 am | Report abuse |
    • JoeyE

      you know, as a Christian.. you shouldn't judge others if they do not believe in God or anyone who is hypocrite.. you STILL shouldn't judge others for what you just did say.. stupid people shame on you! Humble and be peace is only the way.. if you want to influence someone else.. do it in your local town.. not in this CNN please.. stay out of it!

      January 14, 2011 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Spentliver

      Ha Ha it's God's fault all you Holy fk tards

      January 14, 2011 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Zenduane

      God tried the weather bit before to clean up the human race. It didn't work out so well with Noah (we screwed up again), so I doubt that she'll try it again. Follow @zenduane

      January 14, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Riot Mike

      It's funny how so many blind faithfuls have said the samething before.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael Mensah

      Be very careful to use scripture to explaine what is occuring, not that it's not possible, it's just that, the prophecies Christ spoke of, was intended for an appointed time, Read Romans 11 and see, what the current status of what God is doing is, remember that, the day Adam fell along with us all, creation was and still is subjected to frustration, Bible also said evil men will wax worse and worse(paraphrasin), basically, as the Holy Spirit is indwelling the elected children of God (Gentiles and Jews), things will get worse, and it will be more confusing and deceptive because powerful people are involved (Kings of the world), Satan and his followers are involve, sin is still active, and as long as the physical kingdom of God has not been established as described in Isaiah, Revelation (1,000 year Reign of Christ) and by Jesus, for now the Kingdom evidence is delivered along with the Holy Spirit when he indwells us. Salvation is key in this time of grace, and when the fullness of all who will believe in Christ in this grace period has ended, then the calling away of the dead in Christ and then we who are alive will be caught up in the air along with the once dead to meet the Lord in the air and be with him forever, after that, the world will have to explain the greatest PHENOMENA amongst the rest of the havoc that will be in that time, this will include the fall of the world economy, government, disasters, diseases but NOT the one's that Christ quoted, at this time there is already a devilish scream planed to fix the economy with a biological chip that will be implanted but not until the beginning of the last three and a half years remaining of what Jesus prophetically quoted, and to explain the disappearances.The antichrist will be welcomed by the world due to false miracles under the power of satan, to deceive scared, hungry, and desperate people in need of answers. He will sign a peace treaty around that time with Israel and it's enemy's for 7 years, and this will begin the scripture you quoted in Luke, what is happening now is nothing compared to what Christ spoke of, i'm not knocking your discernment, just edifying. Check out more on, Facebook and myspace. thanks.

      January 14, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
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