A climate phenomenon capable of bringing about extreme weather conditions worldwide is entering its rare third year — but is not forecast to affect New York.
La Nina, Spanish for “the girl,” is an oceanic and atmospheric pattern that is the colder counterpart of the more well-known El Niño.
The UN World Meteorological Organization announced on Wednesday that cooler ocean-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific would continue for a consecutive third year in an extraordinary “triple dip.”
“Occasionally like now, it can happen for a couple or a few years in a row, and that’s what’s happening now with La Nina,” Accuweather senior meteorologist Bob Larson told the Daily News. “There’s really not a direct or major correlation with New York state or New York City.”
Weather experts weigh in on this weather event.
What is La Nina?
Both El Nino and La Nina are in the Pacific Ocean climate patterns that influence worldwide weather, as NOAA’s National Ocean Service explained. When neither extreme is at play, trade winds blow west along the Equator and pull warm water from South America and push it towards Asia. Cold water rises to replace the departing warm water, NOAA said. That is part of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycle.
El Nino and La Nina occur about every two to seven years, but not regularly.
While the equatorial Pacific cooling trend known as La Nina is common, an unprecedented “triple dip” was notable for being the first one this century, the World Meteorological Organization said Wednesday.
What does it do?
When trade winds strengthen during a La Nina event, the jet stream gets pushed northward, leading to extreme weather such as drought in some regions, and heavy rains and flooding elsewhere. It can also make for an active Atlantic hurricane season, Larson said.
Where does it do it?
La Nina contributes to certain extreme weather in various parts of the worldfor instance, enabling more rain to fall on Australia and drying out Eastern Africa, as The Verge explained.
In the US, “its greatest impact is over the southern US — Southern California, Texas and all the way east to Florida,” Larson told The News. Those areas become unusually dry, and often, hot. The Pacific Northwest and Canada can see heavy rains and flooding, NOAA said.
La Niña often leads to a feistier-than-normal Atlantic hurricane season, and to less rain and more wildfires in the western United States, and agricultural losses in the central US But that’s not a given, Larson said, noting that this year’s hurricane season so far has not been terribly active — although there’s still time for that to change.
“This year so far, fingers crossed, it’s been unusually quiet,” he said, noting that two years ago when we ran out of hurricane names and had to resort to the Greek alphabet, that may well have been La Nina’s influence. The same goes for Hurricane Ida, which pounded parts of the Northeast in August 2021.
Should New Yorkers prepare for … something?
During a La Nina year, it often tends to be warmer and drier than normal on the Eastern Seaboard during winter, Larson said, so it could contribute to a milder winter. But it’s never clear how much of that is due specifically to La Nina.
Knowing that La Nina is out there does give meteorologists a starting point of things to look out for as they’re making predictions, Larson noted.
What does this mean for global warming and climate change? Should we be worried?
We should always be worried about climate change, given its potential, if unchecked, to render parts of the Earth uninhabitable. But in terms of specific weather patterns generated by La Nina, it is not something that can be directly tied to one specific event, Larson said.
While it’s tempting to interpret La Nina’s cooler ocean temps as a sign of the tide turning on global warming, the third time is not the charm in this case, meteorologists said.
Weather experts warned against getting too sanguine about human-caused global warming in the face of the cooling trend, which is part of a natural back-and-forth process.
“It is exceptional to have three consecutive years with a La Nina event,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “Its cooling influence is temporarily slowing the rise in global temperatures, but it will not halt or reverse the long-term warming trend.”