Vital Nature: La Niña is over, La Nada may be next

La Niña, which is defined as colder than average sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern topical Pacific Ocean that impact global weather patterns, has ended. What may come next is even more foreboding: La Nada.

This year we have heard of devastating hurricanes and floods, plundering tornadoes and record-breaking snowfall. The weather in the U.S. has been wild and unruly, and the La Niña of last year is no longer to blame. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officially debunked the need for the El Niño Watch that had been in effect since June. So, if this year is not La Niña or El Niño, then what is it?

The declaration of this upcoming year as “La Nada” by NASA climatologist Bill Patzert is somewhat misleading. The term La Nada itself means nothing, or neutral. But nothing about our upcoming weather patterns will actually be neutral. Rather, La Nada describes the average neutrality of the temperatures we already have seen and expect to see this year. Keep in mind the average earth temperature gauged over a span of 365 days does not constitute singular extreme highs or lows, and especially ignores detrimental natural disasters that run alongside them.

La Niña and El Niño are the two extreme opposites that make up an intricate Pacific oscillation. Every two to seven years, equatorial Pacific surface water temperatures elevate and catalyze rainier seasons (El Niño) then then recede and often produce dry spells (La Niña). This relatively steady pattern assists in forecasting weather as well as predicting natural disaster. Now that both extremes have been cast offstage, we will have less accurate palmistry through the hands of temperature.

La Nada is compared to by Patzert as “teenagers without rules” that are “unconstrained and unpredictable.” It’s unsteady and different from any existing weather records we currently hold.

The winter of 2010 was a threshold for unusual weather patterns. A typical La Niña would have blown arctic air northward, away from the lower U.S., but that didn’t happen. The lack of La Niña caused an arousal of suspicion that El Niño would step up to the plate, but it ceased to occur as well. Instead, the oceanic jet steam was free to be indecorous.

Many farmers are worried the dry spells of La Niña will continue. During her most recent life, La Niña yielded downtown Los Angeles’ driest season yet. Around 2007, the parched land conspicuously failed to sprout signature springtime Californian poppies, and was doused with a mere three inches of rain that year. At the least, the prediction of El Niño would lighten the hearts of those farmers. They’d like to hear that they need to prepare for extra water fall.

Unfortunate for them, it is clear for now that El Niño is not here. There is a “weak-to-zero signal,” described by Patzert, which implies we can expect anything from our oceans. There is a supposed 50-50 chance our current atmospheric situation will reside as La Nada, or that it will develop into a relatively weak El Niño. But at this point in time, it is notably late in the year for a large El Niño to enroot.

In question is the effect climate change, or global warming, has had on our weather patterns. But because we don’t yet have the means to measure climate change’s direct effects on our world, we cannot blame or disclaim its responsibility. When asked if any NASA research points to climate change as the provoker of this unharnessed weather, Patzert leaves with an uneasy response: “We just don’t know…yet.”