- La Niña means “little girl”, while El Niño means “little boy” or “baby Jesus”.
- The entire natural climate cycle is officially known by climatologists as El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
- A typical La Niña winter in the United States brings cold and snowy northwest and unusually dry conditions to most of the southern part of the United States
So what exactly is La Niña?
The La Niña climate model is a natural cycle marked by cooler-than-average ocean waters in the central Pacific Ocean. It is one of the major weather factors in the United States and around the world, especially in late fall, winter, and early spring.
It’s the opposite of the more well-known El Niño, which occurs when the water in the Pacific Ocean is warmer than average.
Both are terms in Spanish: La Niña means “little girl”, while El Niño means “little boy” or “Christ child”. South American fishermen first noticed periods of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean in the 1600s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The full name they used was “El Niño de Navidad” as El Niño usually peaks around December.
The entire natural climate cycle is officially known to climatologists as El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a sawtooth dance of warmer and colder seawater in the central Pacific Ocean.
During the La Niña events, the trade winds are even stronger than usual, pushing more hot water towards Asia, NOAA said. Upwelling off the west coast of the Americas increases, bringing cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface.
These cold Pacific waters push the jet stream northward, affecting weather conditions in the United States and around the world.
What is a La Niña winter?
A typical La Niña winter in the United States brings cold and snow to the northwest and unusually dry conditions to most of the southern part of the United States, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. The southeast and central Atlantic also tend to experience warmer than average temperatures during a La Niña winter.
New England and the Upper Midwest to New York tend to see colder than average temperatures, the Weather Channel said.
Because La Niña changes storm tracks, it often brings more snow to the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. “Usually, La Niña isn’t a big snow year in the middle of the Atlantic,” said Mike Halpert, former deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center. “You have better luck in New England.”
Texas A&M University agricultural economist Bruce McCarl said the La Niña years are often bad for agriculture in Texas and the surrounding region. U.S. production of most crops – with the exception of corn – typically declines during the La Niña years, according to McCarl’s research.
Globally, La Niña often brings heavy rainfall to Indonesia, the Philippines, northern Australia and southern Africa.
What to expect:The La Niña climate model is expected to return this fall and last all winter. Here’s what to expect.
During La Niña, the waters off the Pacific coast are cooler and contain more nutrients than usual. This environment is home to more marine life and attracts more cold-water species, such as squid and salmon, to places like the California coast.
Can La Niña worsen the hurricane season in the Atlantic?
Yes, according to the Climate Prediction Center. “La Niña may contribute to an increase in hurricane activity in the Atlantic by weakening wind shear over the Caribbean Sea and the tropical Atlantic basin, allowing storms to develop and intensify”, Halpert said in 2020.
Vertical wind shear refers to the change in wind speed and direction between about 5,000 and 35,000 feet above the ground, NOAA said. Strong vertical wind shear can tear a developing hurricane or even prevent it from forming. This is what can happen in the Atlantic during an El Niño when Atlantic hurricane activity is often suppressed.
While La Niña tends to increase the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, it also tends to decrease their number in the basins of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean.