Here Comes La Niña

April 12, 2016

With a monstrous and record-setting El Niño on the wane, the implications of its disastrous worldwide consequences are starting to settle in.

But there’s new evidence that, on its heels, a potentially strong La Niña could emerge later this year — bringing with it a renewed stretch of extreme weather.

On Thursday, the National Multi-Model Ensemble, a blend of the most reliable seasonal forecasts available, showed the clearest signal yet that tropical Pacific waters will cool rapidly over the next six months, most likely ushering in La Niña conditions.

Here’s exactly what’s about to happen, as explained by the fine folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

In a nutshell, El Niño’s burst of warm water has slackened the trade winds across the tropical Pacific Ocean and pushed the atmosphere there into an unsustainable setup. El Niño is eating itself, as Anthony Barnston, one of the world’s foremost experts on El Niño and La Niña, told Climate Central’s Andrea Thompson. As this happens, the trade winds will return with a vengeance and will promote cooler, upwelling ocean water (which we call La Niña) that will shift weather patterns worldwide.

A consensus of longer-range computer models now show La Niña conditions emerging by around July and peaking this winter at a moderate intensity. Though this time of year is known for its relatively less reliable forecasts of this sort, virtually every strong El Niño on record has quickly transitioned to at least a weak La Niña, and there is no reason to believe that this year will be any different.

An additional boost of confidence: A few weeks ago, NOAA researchers fixed a bug in one of their flagship long-range models, which had been showing a continuation of El Niño conditions until 2017. Since then, it has gotten on board with the La Niña forecast, too.

So, you ask, what does La Niña mean for me?

A busy Atlantic hurricane season

In general, La Niña helps slacken cyclone-shredding wind shear over the tropical Atlantic, which means it assists in the formation of hurricanes. This year, there’s specific reason to believe those hurricanes may be more likely to head for the US. An objective pattern-matching technique based on yesterday’s NMME data showed similarities to seasons that favored hurricane strikes in Texas, Florida, the Southeast, and New England.

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