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La Niña and Your Grocery Bill

January 18, 2011

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This winter's weather is being shaped by two enormous weather patterns—La Niña and the Arctic Oscillation (AO). The La Niña is raising the prices of your food. The Arctic Oscillation is raising your heating bill.

The La Niña is killing crops all over the world. The AO is bringing storms and cold throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Your household budget is being attacked by two of the greatest forces in the world.


Photo: December's Strong La Niña—The blue and purple water in the central Pacific Ocean is cooler than normal.
Credit: NASA JPL/Bill Patzert

The current La Niña is spectacular. It started last July and is expected to continue through this summer. In the words of NASA’s award-winning climatologist Bill Patzert, it is “one of the most intense events of the past half century." It currently stretches across most of the Tropical Pacific and is cooling thousands of square miles of the ocean.

This much unusually cool water changes global climate. The colder water cools the air above it, which alters air pressure. When you change air pressure, you change wind patterns. With this strong a La Niña, this much cool water, you change wind and weather patterns all over the world.

Fortunately scientists have studied El Niños and La Niñas for over a century. By the 1990s we’ve known, in a general way, how strong La Niñas affect global weather. They produce heavy monsoons, like the one that devastated Pakistan last summer. In winter there are floods in Australia and flooding and landslides in Brazil. Argentina’s croplands get hit with major drought. Texas and the South endure a dry winter and spring. Today’s tragedies were outlined in weather maps drawn up 15 years ago.

Photo: As far back as the 1990s, scientists have understood where the La Niña will cause flooding and dry weather. Credit – USDA 1994

These floods and droughts are killing crops and raising food prices. The United Nations has warned that poor harvests in Russia and Pakistan last fall and the current growing problems in the Southern Hemisphere are creating food shortages. The problems have even affected parts of the US, as record cold weather threatens some of the winter wheat crop and the South faces months of drier than normal weather. According to the UN, the prices for basic staples wheat, corn, soybeans, sugar and rice have reached record highs. It’s worse in some parts of the world, but even Americans are expected to feel some of the impact.

If you are an actual farmer reading the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this is your time in the sun. Your crops will get some great prices. If, on the other hand, you are just an average consumer buying groceries—Ouch!

Has your home been hit by La Niña weather? Has your area been hit by sticker shock yet? Weather, food, or fuel—share the news here.

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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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Very informative blog

By jayz7

Very informative blog

Very informative blog

By jayz7

Very informative blog

RE: Rainfall Impact Map

By Duncan Saunders

I would appreciate being able to click on the Potential Rainfall Impact map for a larger version. It looks most interesting.

Thank you,

Duncan Saunders

Re:Rainfall Impact Map

By Evelyn Browning...

We are working on it. Meanwhile, if you want to see the original, search the internet for “Review the Causes and Consequences of Cold Events Workshop.” It was a United Nations University/NCAR/UNEP summit held in 1998. Look for figure 5.

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