La Nina Winter


February 17, 2011 // 0 Comments

We Deserve a Break Today by CRAIG JAMES We are finally getting a break in the prolonged winter weather pattern we’ve been having. If you, like me, think a day above freezing feels like a heat wave, it is because we just aren’t used to this “warmth.” The cold air arrived back on the first of December when five inches of snow fell, and there have only been seven days since then with no snow on the ground. Saturday, Feb. 12 was the first day above freezing in Grand Rapids since January 18, when the thermometer soared all the way to 34 degrees. That was 24 days in a row when temperatures never climbed above freezing. One more day and it would have been the longest such streak in 32 years. Between January 1 and February 12, 39 of those 43 days never saw a reading above 32. The longest streak of below-freezing temperatures we have ever recorded was 45 days from December 26, 1976 through February 8, 1977. Thankfully, winter ended in mid February 1977, but I certainly don’t believe it is over yet for this year. We will likely see occasional periods of snow and cold into April and maybe even some freezing rain, too. South of the Ohio River, it looks as if winter is basically over. This should be a great spring to travel to Florida. A strong La Niña developed this year in the Pacific Ocean. Looking back over winters that followed a strong La Niña, the signs are not very encouraging for next winter and spring in Michigan. The second and even third year after a strong La Niña is usually cold and snowy with strong tornado-producing storms in the spring. In case you haven’t heard, preliminary indications are that the state of Oklahoma set a new all-time record low temperature last week when the thermometer registered 31 degrees below zero in the northeast part of that state. You never know whether the state climatologist will decide to throw out that reading for some strange reason or other, as happened in Illinois two years ago and in Michigan in 1994, but there were several other thermometers nearby that were also below the previous record. Temperatures have risen as much as […]

Words on Weather & Climate — October 21, 2010

October 21, 2010 // 0 Comments

A La Niña Winter Can you believe we are approaching the end of October already? Last year I was able to golf until December 2. That is not likely to happen this year. It appears to me as if prolonged cold weather and probably snowflakes will close the golf courses much earlier than last year. An El Niño weather pattern was the rule for the fall into spring last year but this year a strong La Niña looks likely, which should give much of the United States a very different winter than the past one. What is called a La Niña event occurs when the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the Equator from the dateline east to the west coast of South America are more than 1 degree Celsius below normal. This is the opposite of an El Niño event where temperatures are above normal. Both El Niños and La Niñas usually begin to develop in the late summer and last into the following spring. However, some prolonged episodes have lasted 2 years and even as long as 3-4 years. While their occurrence can be quite irregular, El Niño and La Niña develop every 3-5 years on average and they have noticeably different effects on the weather here in the United States. The sea surface temperatures affect where the jet stream is located, which in turn determines the path of storms. The forecast problem, of course, is in the details but you can see from the graphic the average conditions that exist. Here in the Lower Great Lakes, it is usually warmer and drier during an El Niño year than during a La Niña year. There are exceptions but in general this is true, which probably means a colder and snowier winter here than last year when snowfall was right at average with temperatures about two degrees above average. La Niñas generally produce two distinct storm tracks across the country shown in this graphic. Our area gets Alberta Clippers, which produce lake effect snow and storms from the southern plains, which can give us a lot of snow, or sometimes a wintry mix of snow, freezing rain and rain if the low center comes far enough north. It could get mild and […]