Q: You wrote that the weather temperature swings we are experiencing are caused by a "neutral" pattern, that is, neither La Nina or El Nino. What is a "neutral" pattern? What causes it? Why does it make the weather swing so wildly?
A: In an EL NINO, the global pattern drives moisture into the southern storm track. It’s a wet pattern for Georgia and tends to be “cool”, but not cold. LA NINA drives the storm track way north, blocking all cold air into Canada. That’s a warm winter for us. And in “neutral” phase, there’s no defined track. So cold air, which is much more dense (or heavier) can “ooze” as far south as it wants. That’s the frigid part of this winter. AND as that dense air modifies, warm air rushes into place. That’s the mild part of this winter. So the ABSENCE of a defined global pattern allows the season to ride the roller coaster UP and DOWN.
And we wish we knew what causes it. Theories include underwater volcanic activity, abnormal cooling of the Arctic waters in the summer, and aliens (I’m kidding about the aliens). We really don’t know, but I do know there are 16 long-term projects now in the field trying to find those answers.
Q: This weather seems unusual. Generally, how often are there neutral years? Is this a particularly "strong" one?
A: Not unusual at all, just perhaps “more defined” this season, meaning mild and cold are right next to each other, so we notice it more. Consider this: during our winter season (Dec-Feb), we “normally” record six records a season. This year so far, just two. So this is not that unusual. The extremes of EL NINO and LA NINA are the extremes.
Q: How might this pattern affect us the rest of the year? What kind of impact might it have on the drought in Georgia?
A: Actually, we are hoping this will help Georgia’s drought. With EL NINO, the track tends to be very defined and very stable. That means the same areas get all the rain (and that has not been Georgia). LA NINA is a drier pattern in general, and more tornadoes. On our roller coaster, more general storms tend to form in the temperature gradients and that means a better chance of rain (and not so much severe either…).
Q: Is this pattern affecting the entire US? The world? What kind of affect is it having elsewhere?
A: Yep, global weather pattern. And the effects tend to be very predictable except during “neutral” episodes.
Q: What is the weather cycle "year"? When does this cycle end, and another begin? Is it possible to predict what the next cycle will be? If so, what should we look forward to?
A: We’d like to have the answer to that. EL NINO events tend to last eleven to eighteen months and run in a seven-to-ten year cycles. And EL NINOS are the only episodes we can forecast, so the other options fill-in-the-blanks. PLUS “neutral” events do not necessarily follow EL NINOS.
Q: Any other neutral cycle info you can share?
A: Only to answer how do we know which episode we are going thru at the time, and that’s done by measuring the tropical Pacific waters. Yep, that’s it. A rainy month in Southern California, and you might say, “Oh, it’s an EL NINO.” But it might not be, not until we can measure to Pacific water temperatures over time to confirm the rest of the episode.
For a “new” meteorological discovery (only about twenty years ago), this is very exciting stuff for us weather geeks.
Q: How long have you been a meteorologist? Did your last name have anything to do with your job choice, or is it just perfect synchronicity?
A:I started as a hobbyist as early as 7th grade, winning a state science fair with a weather project. It is my real last name, and I suppose that might have had something to do with starting down this road, but I wouldn’t have it any other way now.
Many thanks to Big John!