La Niña's Goodbye Gift: Springtime Floods and Droughts

October 13, 2016

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In Spanish, La Niña means “Little Girl”. Don’t let the cute name fool you. La Niña is one cold little lady. In weather, it means a cold lousy winter followed by a harsh spring filled with floods and droughts. The good news is that she is finally going away.

The La Niña
Source – NASA

The lady’s name comes from Peruvian fishermen. For hundreds of years, they noticed that the ocean waters would occasionally grow very warm around Christmas – the day of the Christ child or little boy (El Niño). The fishing would be awful. At the same time, the land would have heavy rains, even flooding.

The opposite occurred when the ocean waters turned unusually cold. Fishing was wonderful, but Peruvian farmlands baked. For a long time, these cold conditions had a number of names, like El Viejo (the old guy) or La Niña (Little Girl). The chick name won.

This is not exactly a feminist victory. La Niña is a cold miserable phenomenon. A medium or strong event cools over a million square miles of the Pacific, changing air temperatures, pressures and winds. Weather is altered around the globe, including here in the US.

Did you enjoy the stormy winter of 2010 – 2011? Blame the cold little girl.

How about the recent flooding in the Ohio River Valley? That, too, is standard La Niña weather.

Indeed, the phenomenon usually produces heavy spring floods for the Midwest and drought in the Southeast, the Southwest and California. Fortunately, California had some good rainfall this year, but parts of the South have been extremely dry.

Typical La Niña precipitation anomalies in early spring
Source – NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

The good news is that the current flooding and dry weather appears to be the La Niña’s parting gift. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, which monitors the conditions in the Pacific, says the event is coming to an end. The chilly ocean waters are warming and as they do, global weather will become less extreme. If La Niña lasts until July, the phenomenon could bring crop damaging heat waves and drought. However, scientists now say that the Pacific is warming so rapidly that La Niña will be gone by June.

Goodbye, little girl, for now.

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 articles. 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.