What is in this article?:
- As La Niña weakens and El Niño threatens, forecasters admit the weather forecast for summer remains a mystery.
- La Niña has entered “neutral status”, meaning it no longer is considered a significant event that drives weather patterns for North America.
- There is still a chance lasting effects of a strong La Niña, called the La Niña footprint, may be with us at least through spring.
Not So Fast
Barry Goldsmith is a warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Brownsville, Texas, station (among other titles) and a student of complex pattern forecasting. Part of his job requires him to work with local and state disaster emergency personnel in preparing for major weather developments such as hurricanes and wildfires. His passion, and often the subject of classes he stages for professionals and novices alike, is determining why weather develops the way it develops and how to better understand modeling as a method of accurate forecasting.
“There was a time when people would look out the window and see clouds developing and predict that it was going to rain. But we know now that there are multiple reasons why weather happens the way weather happens. It’s a science, and we’re learning more about it all the time,” Goldsmith says.
Goldsmith says predicting the end of a dry season based upon just one contributing event is like choosing the white horse to win the race every time. He says there is a multitude of things that can happen that can influence when and where rain will fall or how hot the summer will be or how cold the winter will get and how long it will last. While La Niña and El Niño events are two major contributors to weather feast or famine, there are other things to consider.
“The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) gives us an indication of the development and intensity of El Niño or La Niña events in the Pacific Ocean, and variations in the temperature of the surface of the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. The temperature of these waters greatly affects weather development in North America. But also of concern is an event known as the North Atlantic and Arctic Oscillations, another major event that radically changes SOI behavior, especially in the Americas,” Goldsmith says.
In layman’s terms, La Niña and El Niño events can be negatively or positively influenced by both Arctic and North American oscillation and the result can bring drought when rain is expected and floods when drier conditions are expected to prevail.
“And these aren’t the only things that affect global weather. We’re just now beginning to understand the dynamics of wave action, for example, and the role these and other factors play as they react with other significant global weather events,” he adds.