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. A

    There only need be one explanation and that is God.

    Psalm 29:10-The Lord rules over the floodwaters.The Lord reigns as king forever.

    Psalm107:25,29-He spoke, and the winds rose,stirring up the waves.He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.

    Proverbs30:4-Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?Who holds the wind in his fists?Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?Who has created the whole wide world?What is his name—and his son’s name?Tell me if you know!

    Jeremiah14:22-Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain? Does it fall from the sky by itself? No, you are the one, O Lord our God! Only you can do such things.So we will wait for you to help us.

    Mark4:39-When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • nillort

      This is so true, you know why? Because it's the bible, but how do we know it's true? Because It came from the bible, but why believe the bible? Because it's the bible.

      Okay, that settles everything.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • A

      Don't take my word for it. Research out these things for yourselves or you would just be putting your faith in what I am saying.

      January 14, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • jack

      Read Matthew 24 we are in the beginning of birth pangs.

      January 14, 2011 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
    • MrX

      Read also Revelation 6;12-17. Planet Earth is about to face a major transmission and the strange weatherpatterns are only the beginning. There will come major earthquakes, more floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptios, tectonic plate movements etc to end up with a major Poleshift. Rev 8;11 give us the answer to what causes this; The planet Wormwood, aka Nibiru or planet X!

      January 14, 2011 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Ha

      Man wrote the bible.. not God. I've read it.. and realized it was all fake. Great fictional story I'd say 🙂

      January 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Arpad101

    Religion sure is a source of a lot of delusion, especially when they have a death wish.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • carter

      Death wish maybe yes or no. You can call it what you want. The fact is that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. So what is better living in a world where there is so much pain, hatred, death, wars......the list goes on or being with the Creator of us all. A lot of people want to go to heaven, but do not want to die. One thing is for certain, we all shall die. But the kicker to it is where will you spend your eternity. I for one would rather be delusion and or narrow minded as one might suggest. But this one thing is for sure....."My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus blood and righteousness. No merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ, the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand".

      January 14, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. goodtimes

    It is really cold.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dan D

    Amazing how we can accept that we do pollute the earth and alter it's patterns but can't accept the fact that just perhaps, the ramifications extend far beyond anything we've ever known. It really matters little as to what's causing the shift but regardless of one's political leaning, it's happening just as sure as those boatloads of Chinese goods are filling the isles at Walmart. As one who lives in Canada, you wannna see some climate change? Be happy to show you.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tizom

    You know God didn't write any of those psalms or proverbs. Man did. Man created God and THAT is the truth.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      That is right. God did not create man in his image, we created God in our image. If there is a God that created man it was to evolve through from primitive life through 100's of millions of years for us to be here the way we are now.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  6. Brad Whistle

    yeah, it isn't global warning right? This article is CNN's propaganda for its big business owner...

    January 14, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Pure science is not propaganda but what others make of it is.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. Krissy

    Southern California was supposed to get a La Nina but we haven't seen it happen yet! We've had a lot of rain lately. It is supposed to get into the 80s this weekend.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. sim

    Same stuff killed the birds and fish

    January 14, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Lee Oates

    Try deforestation as the "cause" of the damage. The weather is not responsible for the heavy flooding, we simply removed the natural elements that would modify the harmful effects.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    What do they mean two phenomena? As any well educated person will tell you there is only one thing responsible for the weather: god of course. There is no need for this science mumbo jumbo.

    January 14, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      Science is not mumbo jumbo, religion is.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
    • corey

      science mumbo jumbo! what? you must be joking! didn't your god create the laws of the universe? science is not mumbo jumbo, your words are... just shut your face.

      January 14, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. HMMM

    Can't wait until people realize that there is no GOD. Closing thing to GOD are aliens.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Arpad101

      I agree. In this vast universe of ours with 10 to the 23rd number of stars, some aliens must have advanced and evolved to the point of being god-like.

      January 14, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Me Engineer

      So answer me this oh most knowledgeable one...

      The Law of Conservation of Energy states: "Energy cannot be created or destroyed." Fundamental LAW of physics right?

      So consider the universe a domain, where did the energy come from?

      January 14, 2011 at 5:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. Reid

    just because we haven't seen these weather patterns before, doesn't mean they haven't happened before, just as strong if not stronger, a lot stronger. our knowledge of weather really only goes a couple hundred years so there is still tons yet to learn and to be seen. core samples are great ways to discover how strong a hurricane is, and frequency of storms found in a small time frame in those samples can tell us when and El Nina and El Nino have occurred in history.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mango

    It's global warming.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. Pog2x from Philippines

    This is climate change. The best thing to do is to prepare. That's all. No need to elaborate strange weather patterns. WATER will rise significantly. This is Global Warming. Always remember that our EARTH was once covered with water for billions of years before Dinosaurs ruled our planet.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Sally Li

      Did dinosaurs really rule? Or were they perhaps just huge, dumb, predictable prehistoric cattle that were herded and henpecked and finally slaughtered en masse by giant, super-intelligent mosquitos?

      January 14, 2011 at 4:00 am | Report abuse |
  15. Mister Know Nothing

    The term Rubicon or 'Crossing The Rubicon' as Caesar once did is akin to 'The Point Of No Return.'

    If we have truly caused this massive problem and we all know we are not changing our ways on earth then we may as well not worry about it, because maybe we have already crossed the Rubicon.

    January 14, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
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