La Nada in the Pacific: A Whole Lot of Nothing

October 13, 2016
Questionable Weather?

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.

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!

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