The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today that the La Nina pattern has developed. This phenomena involves a cooling of the surface of the Pacific Ocean near the equator. This pattern is known to cause a series of chain reactions resulting in a longer hurricane season in the Atlantic, drying the western USA, flooding parts of Australia and South America, a colder winter in the northern USA, and more. Given the high intensity of both the hurricane and fire seasons in 2020, well, buckle up everyone.
The San Francisco Chronicle notes that across the 11 Western states, 87% of the landscape was already abnormally dry. And, as we noted yesterday, more than half of California is in a drought. What’s especially concerning is this prediction:
“We’re already in a bad position, and La Nina puts us in a situation where fire-weather conditions persist into November and possibly even December,” said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger LLC. “It is exacerbating existing heat and drought issues.”San Francisco Chronicle
Normally the fire season ends in early-mid November when the fall rains. The 2020 fire season in California is already historic. Since yesterday’s article, when four of the currently active fires were among the 20 largest wildfires of California’s history, it is now up to six currently active fires.
What’s now called the North Complex fire had been a “little” fire deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains which fire officials had allowed to burn because it wasn’t near anything. Then over the last two days it exploded in what fire officials described as an “historic run” through the crowns of trees. It raced downhill towards Lake Oroville, which is now 1/3rd surrounded, and is threatening the city of Oroville.
The Elkhorn and AugustComplex fires are neighbors, and saw tremendous growth over the last two days. Yesterday the AugustComplex fire was smaller than the LNU and SCU fires (these are largely extinguished) but that growth leapfrogged them to become the largest fire in California history. The Elkhorn Fire formed when four smaller fires merged.
In short, California is having an historic fire season, with over 2.6 million acres burned. We had hoped the season would end with rainfall by mid-November but the new projection, due to La Nina, is for a longer fire season.
Getting back to La Nina, the NOAA released the image above showing the projection for this winter. The Jet Stream will be forced southward causing colder weather and greater precipitation to cover parts of the Northern USA. In other words, the winter will be brutally cold with lots of snow, while other parts of the USA will be dryer than normal.
As if to prove that La Nina isn’t a universally reviled little girl, parts of Australia are hoping the La Nina pattern will ease the drought in north-west Queensland. Other reports in Australia warn of an earlier start to the Cyclone season, and an increase in extreme weather events.
In Colorado, the news warns that La Nina tends to result in lower snowfall for that state.
In the Northern USA, Minnesota Public Radio warns of a “rigorous winter” in Minnesota. While the Minnesota winters are on average 5.5 degrees warmer than in 1970, it’s still cold enough most of the winter for snow. And with a La Nina event, Minnesotans can expect “more than our fair share of snowfall this winter.”
El Nino and La Nina are opposite phases of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. These episodes typically last 9-12 months, but can have a longer span. Where the La Nina phase is due to cooler than average surface temperatures on the Pacific Ocean, the El Nino phase has hotter than average surface temperatures. This cycle in turn drives other weather patterns, that have global effects including the ones just described.
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