El Niño and La Niña
What They Are And How They Will Affect You This Summer
By Rhonda Crank, The Farmer’s Lamp
I’m not a meteorologist magnet; nor am I a weather wizard. But as a sustenance farmer, the weather plays a large part in my life. I don’t know what the weather has been like where you are, but since last winter, we have experienced what can only be called crazy weather patterns.
We noticed last fall the livestock and wildlife here on the farm were not making as many winter preparations as usual. The fuzzy caterpillars were numerous and very light colors. My grandfather always told me this meant a mild winter. The squirrels weren’t concerned about the hickory nuts and acorns left lying everywhere. The coats of the animals never really got very thick.
As the season began, we barely noticed a change from fall, until the rains began. Here in west central Louisiana, we experienced one of the wettest winters on record. We had less than 10 days of freezing weather and many rainfall records were set.
As spring began, the rain continued and we experienced frequent flooding up until early July. We went from nearly flooding to baking. From the second week of July until the middle of August, our average temperature has been 101°F. We set a few all-time highs. We experienced regular heat advisories with heat indexes soaring to 110°F!
Because of the crazy course of the weather, everyone is talking about the El Niño and La Niña effect. Most people think of the severe droughts and overabundance of rain they bring to the earth when you mention them.
Even though they’re in the news, they’re nothing new. They’ve been a part of the Earth’s weather pattern for thousands of years. As our technology develops, we’re better able to learn and understand what used to be a phenomenon. Meteorologists are constantly studying and learning more about the intricate relationship between the ocean and the atmosphere, especially related to these two systems since they have so great an influence on the earth.
But what are they exactly? Avoiding any lengthy, technical definitions (which I would just have to copy anyway), here’s what I’ve learned.
In simple layman terms, El Niño is warmer than average waters in the equatorial Pacific. El Niño means “the little boy” in Spanish. It’s in reference to the “Christ child” because it usually arrived around December. He arrives every three to seven years.
Records from the 1600s show it was recognized by fishermen of South America. It occurs when water along the equator in the eastern Pacific is warmed to above average. In turn, this warms the atmosphere allowing moisture rich air to develop. This initiates storms. See how everything is connected there?
All of the reasons for and conditions that create the variations of El Niño are not understood. We do know there is a physical relationship between winds, ocean currents and the temperature of the ocean and atmosphere. I like to keep things simple. I’m not one to delve into the increased intricacies that aren’t pertinent to my life. I find out what I need to know to make a good decision and be informed, but all the scientific mumbo jumbo just isn’t important to me.
Because of the multitude of variations, no two El Niños are the same, kinda like snowflakes. There’s a range for intensity, strength, and points of impact. The predictions based on the latest El Niño, indicate we should expect above-average temperatures for the North West and Great Plains of the U.S. with below average temperatures for parts of Texas, and Louisiana and the Gulf Coast this winter.
Scientists say the typical results when he arrives are above-average temperatures over most of Canada and the United States. The U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida experience above average rainfall and the Ohio Valley and Pacific Northwest are drier than usual. Has that been your experience this year? It has been here, as we’ve set records for highs and heat indexes.
She means “little girl” in Spanish and she’s often referred to as a cold event. She is the result of the building up of cool waters in the equatorial eastern Pacific area. As atmospheric temperatures cool in response to the colder ocean waters, less water evaporates. Since cooler, drier air is denser, it doesn’t rise and form storms.
This results in less rain over the eastern Pacific, Ecuador, Peru and southeastern United States. She is just the opposite of El Niño. When she arrives, below average temperatures occur on the sea surface in the same east central equatorial Pacific. Her weather effects are just the opposite of El Niño’s. She almost always follows him. The link between the two was not made with any certainty until the early 1960s.
During a La Niña there are unusually strong trade winds resulting from the effects of El Niño. They are said to be the main contributing factor to colder than normal surface waters over the tropical equatorial Pacific and warmer than normal waters over the western Pacific.
Since she is opposite of El Niño, she brings unusually cold weather to the Northwest and North Central states. While she brings higher than normal temperatures to a broad area from the Rockies to the South East to the Mid-Atlantic States, these two systems, El Niño and La Niña, are polar opposites in the oscillation cycle of the Pacific Ocean.
We’re supposed to actually have a winter this year! The year before last we had a little winter, but this last year we had no real winter. Since we didn’t have any real freezing, we’ve had tons of terrible bugs! I hate bugs, especially mosquitoes! They were huge and thick as flies this year because the winter didn’t kill them off.
Let me know how accurate the predictions for your area turn out to be. I hope this simple explanation has helped you understand this natural phenomenon that so drastically affects our lives.
As for us this spring, we’re looking forward to some cold and maybe even some snow! Rare here, but it could happen! Here’s a funny thought for you: as I’m writing this article, it’s 105°F outside—not counting the heat index. While you’re reading this article, I hope it’s freezing here!
So what does this mean to you? Whew! I’ve included these two links so that you can check out the predictions for your area. We’ll see if the predictions are accurate.
Ancient Weather Adages
The old-timers could predict the weather with great accuracy. My grandparents were closer than any weatherman I’ve ever listened to. They had wisdom that we’ve lost. They knew things like:
• The darker the woolly caterpillar or its brown stripe, the harsher the weather.
• The higher the clouds, the better the weather.
We’re all familiar with, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Did you know it’s in the Bible? Yep, Jesus said, “When it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering.” (Matthew 16:2-3)
There are many old-timey sayings about the wind and weather pointing to the west as the place to watch for developing conditions. Jesus also said, “When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass.” (Luke 12:54-55). So people have long known how to read the weather signs.
HERE ARE A FEW MORE:
• A weathercock that swings to the west proclaims the weather to be the best.
• A weathercock that swings to the east proclaims no good for man or beast.
• Bats flying around in the evening indicate fair weather.
• To convert cricket chirps to degrees Fahrenheit, count number of chirps in 14 seconds then add 40 to get temperature.
• If there is dew on the grass in the morning, chances are it won’t rain that day.
• If you make a fire outside and the smoke goes straight up, you will have good weather. If the smoke curls and wisps then rain is on its way.
• When clouds appear like towers, the Earth is refreshed by frequent showers.
• Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning—meaning a shower is approaching from the west.
• Ask any beekeeper about these:
~ Bees a’ swarmin’ in July, bring little more than a dry.
~ When bees stay close to their hive, rain isn’t far away.
— Rhonda Crank
Learn more about Rhonda Crank and The Pack at http://thefarmerslamp.com, and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.