La Nina has returned for a second year in a row. According to NOAA’s winter climate outlook, this oceanic-atmospheric phenomenon will strongly shape our upcoming winter season.
La Nina is a climatic episode associated with the larger El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean. During a La Nina event, sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific are cooler than normal. This ocean temperature anomaly influences weather around the globe.
In the US, La Nina will impact both the temperature and precipitation in many parts of the country. The southern states are likely to see conditions that are both warmer and dryer than normal. This is not good news for the drought-stricken state of Texas. The northern tier is expected to experience below average temperatures with the northwest getting above average precipitation. The northeast and mid-Atlantic states have a 50/50 chance of seeing irregular conditions from La Nina. In this region, the Arctic Oscillation (AO), a different oceanic-atmospheric pattern, has a stronger influence on winter weather.
Less predictable than La Nina, the AO continually transitions between positive and negative phases. A negative phase will bring cold arctic air and snowy conditions to the eastern US. The cold snaps and heavy snow we saw last winter in the northeast were influenced by a very strong negative phase of the AO. These strong phases can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and can be difficult to anticipate in long term forecasts.
The current La Nina event is forecast to last through February.