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La Nada in the Pacific: A Whole Lot of Nothing

June 27, 2011

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La Niña, that trouble-making cold spot in the Pacific, is gone and now we are being told to brace ourselves for . . . nothing.

That’s right—prepare for La Nada weather!

Long ago Peruvian fishermen named the occasional warm patch in the Tropical Pacific El Niño.

It appeared around Christmas—so they named the event after the baby Jesus or El Niño. It produced warmer offshore temperatures and really rotten fishing conditions.

Further afield, El Niño produced heavy snow in the US Southwest, warm conditions in Canada and northern states, weak monsoons in India and droughts and wildfires in Australia and Indonesia.

The hot El Niño in the Pacific. Credit: NASA

Scientists noticed that just as the unusually warm Tropical Pacific affected global weather, so did unusually cold conditions. Indeed, the unusually cold water produced almost exactly opposite global weather than the warm water did. (For example, this winter’s La Niña flooded Australia.) They searched for opposite names from El Niño, which technically means “little boy”. For a while, scientists teetered between El Viejo (the old man) and La Niña (the little girl). The latter won out and now the cold and nasty phenomenon has a dainty name.

The cool La Niña in the Pacific. Credit: NASA


More recently scientists decided to add a third “N” to the Pacific. The El Niño and La Niña have been joined by La Nada (the nothing). When the Tropical Pacific is neither unusually warm nor cool, it is now officially a La Nada – a normal Pacific.

Some scientists are warning that this “nothing” also creates extreme weather. In the words of NASA climatologist Bill Patzert, in a recent NASA news release:

"La Niña was strong in December."But back in January it pulled a disappearing act and left us with nothing – La Nada – to constrain the jet stream. Like an unruly teenager, the jet stream took advantage of the newfound freedom--and the results were disastrous."

Officially January was still a La Niña. However, Patzert is correct about the impact of La Nada. It lets the jet streams whip around like a loose garden hose spraying water. And, indeed, like a garden hose, every place gets wet. Instead of heavy rains being directed in a few flooding locations (like the Midwest) while the rest of the nation dries out (I’m talking to you – Texas) rainfall tends to shift all over the US.

It may take a month or more for the full effects of La Nada to be felt, but brace yourself for a whole lot of nothing. It will probably feel wet.

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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.


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Here in south-east England,

By PenelopeS

Here in south-east England, the swallows (summer migrant birds) are already starting to muster on overhead power and telephone lines. Tradition has it that if the swallows leave early, the Winter will be hard. I hasten to add that this hypothesis is a result of centuries of empirical observation by uneducated country-folk and that no computer models were involved in it’s making. La Nada will only last a few weeks as a transition period. We will know more in 2 weeks at which time the 3.4 index should either break through the zero line towards an El Nino or swing back to another La Nina.
My cash advance is on another La Nina. Keep your eyes on the trade winds

natural disaster as we all know is unpredictable

By louisseH

natural disaster as we all know is unpredictable and inevitable but if we are prepared for these natural calamity ahead of time, i know there will be less casualties and many lives will be save so we better make sure that we make ourselves prepared all the time and prioritize safety as well. But after every disaster cleaning up is expensive. For property owners and citizens of a disaster-stricken area, Federal Emergency Management Agency behaves as a safety net. Federal Emergency Management Agency is at least partially responsible for the $7 billion expected cleanup of Irene, but the agency only has $800 million in the bank. People may just need cash advances to get things cleaned up.


By Andy Fox

Not sure I'm following this. Bottom line, are you saying that the weather will get better? Or are we screwed either way? Was La Nada responsible for the wild weather? Or, a good thing? Thanks and sorry for any stupid questions. You can dumb it down for me!

The question is not stupid –

By Evelyn Browning...

The question is not stupid – it can get confusing. Most of the terrible weather we have had has been due to La Niña and (during winter) a strong negative Arctic Oscillation. With La Niña gone, the weather will change. There will be some problems, but at least they won't be the same patterns of extreme weather we have had all spring. The good news is that La Nada usually brings rainfall to the drought-stricken southern tier of states.

thank you

By Andy Fox

thank you. that is very helpful and clear. appreciate your reply.

La Nina is not gone

By jeltez42

La Nina may have weakened a bitand is not forecasted to weaken any further so nada to La Nada. La Nina is projected to be back in full party mode by Aug/Sept/Oct. There is also no evidence of the January "weakening" claimed by Mr Patzert. The weakening started in April and peaked in June.

You also cannot forget about the Arctic Oscillation that seems to have more of an impact on our weather than many think.

It would be nice to have a La Nada in place for several months just for something different.

Officially it is gone

By Evelyn Browning...

You and other readers are welcome to go to the official NOAA website that analyzes the El Nino/La Nina cycle:
It has pronounced the event is over. Similar announcements can be found in other national and international weather services. Tropical Pacific water temperatures are neutral. As the blog mentions, it will take a month or more for the full effect of La Nada weather to be felt, especially in higher latitudes.
The majority of nations predict a neutral Pacific, La Nada, for the rest of the year. The US Climate Forecast System suggests a weak La Nina may return around mid-autumn. At this point, I suspect La Nina will be back next winter. Like you, I think it will be nice to have La Nada in the meanwhile.

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