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Peregrine News

Air: La Nina

Posted by Joseph Anderson

La Nina

Pepe was a proud man.  He was not only proud because of his wonderful new daughter but because he had a thriving fishing business in the bountiful nutrient rich waters off the coast of the most important city in the entire new world, Lima.  The year was 1555 and it was the 3rd week of December and approaching the day of his prophet’s birthday but something wasn’t quite right.  Pepe’s fishing fleet had been greeted every morning by a putrid stench.  Fish were dying and washing onto the shores.  The water was warm and the air was stagnant.  On Christmass day Pepe asked “Christ Child, what are you up to? I will learn to endure if you will please deliver me wisdom.”
Exactly one year later he breathed in deeply the unusually cool ocean air and knew that this would be a bountiful year of fishing and good fortune for him and all of the citizens of Lima.  “Our Prophet has returned with wisdom”, he told his devoted staff “El Viejo” he proclaimed is upon us.  He knew it was only through his divine wisdom that he survived the year and would now be rewarded with plenty.
As the years passed and turned into decades they came to learn that this weather pattern was a simple rhythm of life off of the coast of Peru.  Some years the waters would become much warmer than usual, fish would die and people would find ways to cope.  They would come to call these “El Nino”, years.  The one thing that would get everyone through an El Nino year was the knowledge that balance would eventually be restored.  In the near future the waters would cool drastically allowing life to flourish in abundance and that year would be known as “La Nina”.
Little did the early Hispanic fisherman of 16th century Pacific South America know the water surface temperatures for their region would go far beyond predicting local fishing conditions.  Climatologists have found that when the eastern Equatorial Pacific water surface temperatures drop more than 1 degree C below average, than ranchers of North Eastern Australia will be bogged down with flooding, rice crops of Korea and Japan will suffer from drought and skiers in the North Western US will need snorkels so they can breathe in the insane amount of snowfall.
Known as the El Nino/ La Nina Southern Oscillation, this (approximate) 5 year pattern is now a basis for climatologists to predict climate trends for the entire world.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) official statement is “La Niña brings wetter than normal conditions across the Pacific Northwest”….”La Niña at these latitudes are most clearly seen in wintertime”. 
Now if you’re from Western Washington or Southwestern British Columbia you would probably be asking yourself – “Isn’t all of this information a little late?  Last winter was a La Nina winter.”  And the answer is yes.  Last winter was indeed a La Nina winter.  Once again NOAA is stating “A majority of the models now predict La Niña to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter and then gradually weaken after peaking during the November – January period.” 
So La Nina conditions can occur 2 years in a row….and they have ever since records have been kept.  The Last two La Nina winters that the North West experienced dowsed our local ski hill,Mt Baker, with the most snow that any skier area has ever recorded in the entire world.  In the La Nina winter of 1999 Mt Baker received 95 feet of snow.
So what gives?  It’s December 9th and the precipitation totals for the month thus far for Bellingahm, WA amounts to 0.00… NOAAs climate prediction center on December 8th 2011 is issuing a La Nina advisory, stating that: “La Niña is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2011-12”.
The important thing is to look at the big picture and so here it is.  November gave us close to a record snowpack already in the North Cascades and so far December temperatures have maintained at five to seven degrees below average every day.  Now looking into the near future the strong high pressure that brought us these cold temperatures is breaking down.  With “a large scale trough digging into the west coast by middle of next week”. My advice to you – get your skis ready more snow is on the way.