La Niña: Good or Bad?

Oct 13, 2016
La Niña


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Here’s the news – La Niña, that cool pool of water in the Tropical Pacific, is back.

It’s baaaack! La Niña has returned to the Pacific.  Source: NOAA

Here’s the question: Is that good or bad news?

Here’s the answer: It’s good news for the East Coast and not for Texas. It’s great news for a mellow autumn and rough news for mid-winter cold. It’s good news for retailers and ski resorts, it’s bad news for Christmas air travel. In short, it is a mixed bag of weather.

In the second week of September, the water in the Tropical Pacific became 0.9˚F (0.5˚C) colder than normal. This was low enough that the US weather service officially announced that a new La Niña had begun. Over a million square miles of ocean water were cooling the air above it, making the air dry and cold. This changed the air pressure, which changes wind patterns and weather. When such a huge amount of air is changed, it changes weather all around the globe.

Some of the weather changes were great. In general, La Niñas produce warmer and drier autumns, allowing some of those Midwestern crops that were planted late during the spring floods enough time to ripen. This will help the price of food. Unfortunately, the La Nina will also dry conditions in Texas, which could really use some rain.

La Niña also tend to shift the wind and air pressure patterns that steer Atlantic hurricanes. Since the event began in September, hurricanes have been shooting up the Atlantic Ocean, rather than skimming the East Coast, like Hurricane Irene. Storms in the Caribbean have gone due east rather than veering north into the Gulf Coast, like Tropical Storm Lee.

La Niñas frequently create global wind patterns that tend to steer Atlantic hurricanes away from US shores. Source: NOAA

La Niñas also tend to better the odds for cool, snowy mid-winters. This may make Christmas air traffic a mess, but it is the answer to skier’s prayers. This tends to increase midwinter clothing sales, a gift to retailers. And it provides a pretty, white Christmas.

Just remember this Christmas, as you watch the snowflakes fall—it all started with some cool water in the middle of the vast Pacific.


About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

Reader Comments

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winter maine coast 2011

an earlier replay about the polar air mass starting to let go and colder temperatures for the northeast doesn't appear to be happening. So far this winter temperatures we have had several days of mild temperatures of 50's and 60's. Does it still look like a colder and snowier winter her in the northeast. Mid-coastal Maine in particular

SF Bay Area

So in the San Francisco Bay area does that mean we're in for a mild winter? Since the water is cooler and the air a bit cooler? Last year was pretty wet, but I thought it was an el nino year.

Dayton, Ohio/Ohio Valley Winter

Will we have an unusually cold/snowy winter in the Dayton, Ohio/Ohio Valley this year?

Yes. Think of last year and

Yes. Think of last year and get out the coast and  sweaters.

Yes. Think of last year and

Yes. Think of last year and get out the coast and  sweaters.

What about fall, winter and spring in southeaster New Mexico

We have a cattle ranch and it has been very dry.Do we have any good news regarding some good rains either in the fall, winter and/or spring? We have already sold half our herd to help save on our dry feed now.

I am a New Mexican like you

I am a New Mexican like you and my husband teaches a lot of rancher kids. I really wish I could say we will have a wet winter. Unfortunately, with a La Nina, we typically have below average rain and snow. We are looking at a climate time like the 1950s.

Betty & Barney Hill abduction

Hello, I am reading the book about the Betty & Barney Hill abduction. We love the White Mountains. Is there a site to find out what the weather was the night of Sept 19-20th 1961 in the Franconia Notch area? Very interested. Any help would be appreciated, thanks

Weather In Washington State

I live in a flood prone part of North West Washington State. Can you tell me what kind of weather should I expect this winter?

Weather in Washington State

A lot of the climate factors that were in place this time last year are back in place now. This winter has the potential to have some of the same problems that you saw last winter.

What about the Northeast?

Hi. I live in the northeast near Binghamton, NY which is in upstate New York and I heard we're suppose to have a very bad winter. I also heard that we're suppose to have another flood worse than the one over a month ago when Tropical Storm Lee hit us. Is that true? Please let me know.

I'm sorry to say that it does

I'm sorry to say that it does look like your region is in for some flooding, as well as a cold winter. Here's the big picture of what is happening:
The winds around the Arctic trap the cold polar air mass. They are currently weakening, which is allowing that cold air to surge in your direction. Meanwhile, the Atlantic is VERY warm for this time of year. When icy air crashes into warm wet air, you get flooding rainfall and/or heavy snows.
There is a lot going on in the circumpolar winds, so it looks like a lot of polar air will be blasting us this winter.

Cooler in the southern states?

Do this mean it will be cooler and drier in the southern coastal states? I live in Tampa, FL and am concerned about all my new plants.

I took oceanography in college, but promptly forgot everything I learned by the next semester.

Unfortunately, it usually

Unfortunately, it usually means a drier winter in the South.
Normally it would also mean a warmer winter as well. However, there are some events going on in the Atlantic that may bring some cold weather south, just like last year.
Let's hope the La Nina warmth beats out the Atlantic forces.

La Nina has back return but I

La Nina has back return but I don't think it is not so good news for pacific land. It is really very affected on the water. Tropical pacific become 0.9 F colder than normal so I think it is not good for our land and our earth. So we should stop this La Nina.

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re: La Nina has back return but I

bud126, this is mostly a natural occurrence.


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