What's to blame for wild weather? 'La Nada'

Jun 28, 2011 By Dauna Coulter
The blue and purple band in this satellite image of the Pacific Ocean traces the cool waters of the La Niña phenomenon in December 2010. Credit: Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite, NASA JPL

(PhysOrg.com) -- Record snowfall, killer tornadoes, devastating floods: There’s no doubt about it. Since Dec. 2010, the weather in the USA has been positively wild. But why?

Some recent news reports have attributed the phenomenon to an extreme "La Niña," a band of cold water stretching across the Pacific Ocean with global repercussions for climate and weather. But NASA climatologist Bill Patzert names a different suspect: "La Nada."

"La Niña was strong in December," he says. "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."

La Niña and El Niño are opposite extremes of a great Pacific oscillation. Every 2 to 7 years, surface waters across the equatorial Pacific warm up (El Niño) and then they cool down again (La Niña). Each condition has its own distinct effects on weather.

This satellite image, taken in April 2011, reveals La Niña's rapid exit from the equator near the US coast. The cool (false-color blue) water was gone by early spring. Credit: Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite, NASA JPL

The winter of 2010 began with La Niña conditions taking hold. A "normal" La Niña would have pushed the jet stream northward, pushing cold arctic air (one of the ingredients of severe weather) away from the lower US. But this La Niña petered out quickly, and no El Niño rose up to replace it. The jet stream was free to misbehave.

"By mid-January 2011, La Niña weakened rapidly and by mid-February it was 'adios La Niña,' allowing the jet stream to meander wildly around the US. Consequently the weather pattern became dominated by strong outbreaks of frigid polar air, producing blizzards across the West, Upper Midwest, and northeast US."

The situation lingered into spring -- and things got ugly. Russell Schneider, Director of the NOAA-NWS Storm Prediction Center, explains: "First, very strong winds out of the south carrying warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico met cold jet stream winds racing in from the west. Stacking these two air masses on top of each other created the degree of instability that fuels intense thunderstorms."

Extreme contrasts in wind speeds and directions of the upper and lower atmosphere transformed ordinary thunderstorms into long-lived rotating supercells capable of producing violent tornadoes.

In Patzert's words, "The jet stream -- on steroids -- acted as an atmospheric mix master, causing tornadoes to explode across Dixie and Tornado Alleys, and even into Massachusetts."

All this because of a flaky La Niña?

"La Niña and El Niño affect the atmosphere's energy balance because they determine the location of warm water in the Pacific, and that in turn determines where huge clusters of tropical thunderstorms form," explains Schneider. "These storms are the main energy source from the tropics influencing the large scale pattern of the jet stream that flows through the US."

In agreement with Patzert, he notes that the very strong and active jet stream across the lower US in April "may have been related to the weakening La Niña conditions observed over the tropical Pacific."

And of course there's this million dollar question: "Does any research point to climate change as a cause of this wild ?"

"Global warming is certainly happening," asserts Patzert, "but we can't discount global warming or blame it for the 2011 tornado season. We just don't know ... Yet."

What will happen next? And please don't say, "La Nada."

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yogurtforthesoul
5 / 5 (3) Jun 28, 2011
Utah had it very strange. We had major fronts "storm" in throughout winter and atleast two Blizzards. Our mountains got ridiculous amounts of snow that began to truly melt LAST WEEK. Now flood warnings are posted for nearly all the major rivers (and have been all spring as it has been very wet).

This was good for a drought in the southern region, but it came at an expense. Major campgrounds still have feet of snow to melt, which would be gone by the first week of June typically.

Lots of thunder-snow this year as well, as well as high winds as high pressures ran headlong into strong low pressures. Both unusual for Sal Lake City snowstorms. These conditions came with nearly every major front.
MP3Car
5 / 5 (3) Jun 28, 2011
I live in KS, and while people are very used to odd weather events here, we had a pretty crazy event happen a few weeks ago, even for this part of the country... A 17 degree temperature spike at midnight, increasing nearly 1 degree per minute. It was 85F @ 12:22am, and 102F at 12:44am... compression heating, called a "heat burst"... It brought 50-60mph winds with it too.
Geawiel
5 / 5 (3) Jun 28, 2011
Here in Washington state we've been more or less cut off from the rest of the US when it comes to weather. We had some almost record snowfalls, then it would melt within a week. This unusual melting cycle is resulting in record floods. On top of that, our spring and early summer weather has been very mild and we didn't even reach 80deg until last week. We've also had large amounts of rain which, combined with the record mild temps, are devistating local crops. If things stay this way, I'm curious as to how it will effect our winter.
jjoensuu
2 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2011
Here in Massachusetts last winter had unusually much snow. I had just moved here and someone told me that they never really had it like that. Normally the snowfalls are considerably less.

Maybe the government has found out how to manipulate the weather, like that Swiss company Meteo Systems with their "WEATHERTEC";-P Or otherwise I guess all this is due to some natural forces(?)
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (2) Jun 28, 2011
The article was interesting, but the comments from those who had strange weather was even more interesting. I appreciate those taking the time to relate their weather events and their locations. I live in the Oregon Willamette Valley. Our weather was not much different from the usual weather but there was a lot of snow-pack in the mountains and it has been melting at a rapid rate leading to flooding here in the valley. So, the crazy weather missed us but the secondary flooding did not.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (7) Jun 28, 2011
I think a more significant point to make is that this has happened before.
Few may be alive to remember, but that is why records are kept.
StarGazer2011
1 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2011
The tornados were worse in the 1950s, this is just normal. Null hypothesis stands.
omatumr
1 / 5 (8) Jun 28, 2011
The Carrington Event of 1859 demonstrated how closely Earth is tied to the stormy Sun [1].

It is, in fact, the violently unstable solar core [2] that controls our fate.

Giant moderators here (air and oceans) and surrounding the solar core (iron-rich mantle and H-rich atmosphere) moderate the solar core's impulsive violence.

See:

1. Stuart Clark, The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began (Princeton University Press, 2007) 217 pages

http://books.goog...0KokYsIC

2. O Manuel, Neutron Repulsion, The APEIRON Journal, in press, 19 pages (2011):
http://arxiv.org/...2.1499v1

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
saintronmcg
5 / 5 (1) Jun 28, 2011
I live in the Sacramento Delta area and last year I had been running my ac for two months already. This year. Once last week. Still lots of snow pack in the Sierra's I'm told. Tahoe etc. This current storm may cause rapid melt off. Watching the levy's closely.:)
Sancho
1 / 5 (7) Jun 29, 2011
"Global warming is certainly happening," asserts Patzert
----------------------------------------------------------
The "certainly" part is an overstatement. The data don't support that; the late '90s were a near-cycle peak, apparently. One "certainly" shouldn't rely on the disputed, massaged temperature data from the agenda-driven IPCC for confirmation of warming.

lengould100
5 / 5 (4) Jun 29, 2011
"Global warming is certainly happening," asserts Patzert
----------------------------------------------------------
The "certainly" part is an overstatement. The data don't support that; the late '90s were a near-cycle peak, apparently. One "certainly" shouldn't rely on the disputed, massaged temperature data from the agenda-driven IPCC for confirmation of warming.


Its a sad world when people start ignoring irrefutable data because of political beliefs.
SteveL
5 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2011
I was in Groton Connecticut in the winter of '77 for submarine school. The snow was so heavy we dug out of the second story windows to get in and out of the barraks - mainly due to the 15' snow drifts. As a child I remember a tornado near Enumclaw Washington that tore a 4' diameter oak tree out of the ground not 500 yards from my house. Weather happens.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (9) Jun 29, 2011
Its a sad world when people start ignoring irrefutable data because of political beliefs.

Yes it is certainly sad when AGWites censor, ignore and ridicule data that supports the impact of the sun on the earth's climate. Instead they have faith in GCMs that fail and disregard a fundamental tenet of science, correlation is not causation.

12000 years ago CT was covered by glaciers. Fortunately the weather has warmed since then.
omatumr
1 / 5 (7) Jun 29, 2011
The scientific facts are not reassuring to mankind's inflated egos.

The Suns violently unstable neutron core gave birth to the Solar System five billion years ago, including the material that comprises us and planet Earth [1-4].

Continued emissions from the solar core bath us with photons, particles and fields (sunlight, heat and energy) that sustain us.

Despite all his knowledge and illusion of power and self-importance, mankind is totally dependent on the forces of Nature.

That unpalatable truth in the main conclusion to my research career [5].

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

1. Nature 262, 28 (1976)

www.nature.com/na...8a0.html

2. Science 195, 208 (1977)

www.omatumr.com/a...enon.pdf

3. Nature 277, 615 (1979)

www.nature.com/na...5a0.html

4. Journal of Fusion Energy 21, 193-198 (2002)

http://arxiv.org/.../0501441

5. "A Journey to the Core of the Sun", in process.

Oliver K. Manuel

frenchie
5 / 5 (4) Jun 29, 2011
I think a more significant point to make is that this has happened before.
Few may be alive to remember, but that is why records are kept.

isn't ryggesogn2 the same person as marjon? It's only convenient for you to use the "records" when they fit your view of things buddy.

---------------------------------
On a separate note, colorado has seen record snowfalls this winter and we're just getting the melt in our rivers now. Later than usual. A lot wetter spring as well and we were still getting snow in may I think. some of our sky stations are still open ahah. Weird weather alright

as a side note, it isn't only the US experiencing weird weather. I know France has a record drought going.

------------------

Last but not least, as always the trolls come by. omatur with his sun = iron = omg article spam post. Marjon with his/her head in the sand. HI TROLLS !!! /wave

omatumr
1 / 5 (4) Jun 29, 2011
duplicate post removed
lengould100
not rated yet Jun 30, 2011
Yes it is certainly sad when AGWites censor, ignore and ridicule data that supports the impact of the sun on the earth's climate. Instead they have faith in GCMs that fail and disregard a fundamental tenet of science, correlation is not causation.
Well, point out some genuine data (not all that unsubstantiated hypothetical stuff from the Exxon websites you guys usually point out) and I'll happily incorporate it into my position.

12000 years ago CT was covered by glaciers. Fortunately the weather has warmed since then.
Last Ice age as evidence??? OF WHAT, that you've got pre-determined ideas on science?

Last but not least, as always the trolls come by. omatur with his sun = iron = omg article spam post. Marjon with his/her head in the sand. HI TROLLS !!! /wave
Really. With scientists such as these for support, even I, who am unconvinced of either position, am starting to wonder.
lengould100
5 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2011
One of my best days was hearing of the hypothesis that, rather than CO2, it may have been solar cosmic rays causing observed data. I thought "Perhaps earth does have a chance!" Of course the religious right hopped all over that, screaming insults at anyone who questioned it. Then it turned out that the hypothesis failed. Rats!

I've also often said we should be saving up all this fossil CO2 for use when earth really needs it, to avoid falling into the next ice age, perhaps in a century or five. But no, we'll waste it all now, and dessertify our croplands while we do it. Idiots, dumber than yeast.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (5) Jun 30, 2011
"Scientists in the US have shown that the end of the last age 19,000 years ago began in the higher latitudes of the southern hemisphere before sweeping into the tropics.

The finding confirms previous data that elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lagged behind the initial warming event - by about 1000 years - and that the principal driver of climate change is the sun, with carbon dioxide ( CO2 ) amplifying the effects."
http://www.rsc.or...0702.asp

Since there were no SUVs 19000 years ago, what started the glaciers to melt?
lengould100
4.7 / 5 (3) Jun 30, 2011
The tilting of earth's axis and orbital variations, of course.

And that "1000 year lag" argument is not proof of anything except that the natural GHG feedback cycle DOES, agreed, need some other trigger event to get it started. A VERY slight, fractional-degree warming from Milankovitch cycles, usually.

But a bunch of stupid apes burning everything in sight can also act nicely as a trigger. And a big warming trigger, started at the height of a warm period in the Milankovitch cycle, can very possibly send the system into completely unknown territory.

We're absolutely crazy to be doing this experiment, with unknown results, on the only spaceship in the universe we know of which can support our species.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (5) Jun 30, 2011
Gee, the sun affects the climate? Would not have guessed that listening to AGWites.
omatumr
1.3 / 5 (7) Jun 30, 2011
Gee, the sun affects the climate? Would not have guessed that listening to AGWites.


They ignored the Sun and scared us about global cooling in 1974:

www.time.com/time...,00.html

They ignored the Sun and changed the story to global warming.

Whether or not propaganda artists like it, the Sun is Earth's heat source:

Superfluidity in the Solar Interior:
Implications for Solar Eruptions and Climate
Journal of Fusion Energy 21, 193-198 (2002)

http://arxiv.org/.../0501441

Earth's Heat Source - The Sun
Energy & Environ. 20, 131-144 (2009)

http://arxiv.org/pdf/0905.0704

"Neutron Repulsion", APEIRON
J. in press, 19 pages (2011)

http://arxiv.org/...2.1499v1

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
lengould100
3.3 / 5 (4) Jun 30, 2011
They ignored the Sun and scared us about global cooling in 1974:
Aww, poor fella! Scared you did they? I was studying science in the 1960's / 70's and do not recall ever hearing a word about such, but then, perhaps you're too easy to scare.
astro_optics
1 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2011
We really need to do something about the surface of the Sun, as it's causing all these weather issues... How about sending all the greenies there to do some research? A small step for population control, but a great leap for mankind!
thermodynamics
3 / 5 (2) Jul 04, 2011
astro_optics: Are you going on the expedition? Will you please take Oliver with you so he can check out his internal neutron star?
cmn
not rated yet Jul 04, 2011
This wild weather is so strange, completely out of nowhere... It's almost as if someone spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean, then tried to cover it up with thousands of gallons of solvent... Weird.