La Niña may loiter through June
January 27, 1999
By Environmental News Network staff
(ENN) -- La Niña, already blamed in part for record snowfall and sub-zero temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast, heavy rains in the Northwest and a record number of tornadoes in the South, will push on through June, according to the latest forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service.
La Niña, the climatic opposite of El Niño, is cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific that impact global weather patterns, according to NOAA meteorologists. Conditions for this cold episode strengthened throughout the tropical Pacific in December as sea surface temperatures continued to drop. A month later, many Americans are feeling the effects, they said.
"The conditions we're seeing that are generating weather extremes this winter are largely consistent with La Niña," said Ed O'Lenic, a forecaster at the NWS Climate Prediction Center. "Everyone should be prepared because extreme weather may reoccur this cold season," he added.
A record number of tornadoes, 102 preliminary count, have occurred since Jan. 1, according to scientists at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, and the month is not over yet. The previous high for the month of January was 52 in 1975. On a single day, Jan. 17, 31 tornadoes touched down in parts of Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. This was followed by another two-day outbreak of 55 tornadoes across the South on Jan. 21-22.
La Niña pushes unusually warm air farther to the north and unusually cold air farther to the south, making conditions ripe for severe, warm-weather events -- such as tornadoes -- to happen in the winter, said O'Lenic.
Joseph Schaefer, director of the Storm Prediction Center, said that while climatic events such as El Niño and La Niña "set the stage" in determining large scale precipitation patterns, the conditions that cause tornado development act on a much smaller scale. "Be prepared. Remember that tornadoes can occur in winter," he said.
Extreme weather this month has buried Buffalo, N.Y., under 63.5 inches of snow; South Bend, Ind., under 36.7 inches of the white stuff; and Chicago broke its single-day snowfall record with 18.6 inches on Jan. 2. Indiana and Maine set all-time state temperature records with readings of -36 degrees and -55 degrees.
The latest forecast from the National Weather Service calls for continued above normal wetness in the Northwest, the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley; unusually dry weather in the Southwest to the central and southern Great Plains, and in Florida and southern sections of Alabama and Georgia. Temperature wise, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and areas in the Southwest can expect above-normal readings. Sections of the Northwest, plus areas from Minnesota across the Great Lakes to northern Pennsylvania, New York and New England, will experience abnormally cold temperatures.
With the threat of severe weather always possible, the NWS urges families, communities and businesses to have a severe weather action plan, including ways to seek safety immediately when at home, work, school or outdoors. The plan also should include keeping a battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio nearby. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts up-to-the-minute forecasts and warnings 24 hours a day.
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