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La Niña brings drought, extreme weather

By Kandace Thomas
On October 3, 2011

This summer saw no shortage of strange weather throughout the United States. Areas of the Southwest saw irregular heat patterns. In Texas there were record-breaking temperatures, resulting in over three months of 100 degree heat. New York City and the Eastern Seaboard were slammed by Hurricane Irene. Oklahoma, New Mexico, and other Southwestern states saw high temperatures that resulted lower-than-average rainfalls and widespread crop loss from drought.

Junior communications student, Aasia Bullock, lived in Dallas over the summer, enduring the heat firsthand. "I thought I was going to melt. My car had no air conditioning so I just stayed inside whenever I could," Bullock said. Bullock is one of several students who were directly affected by the extreme weather patterns that swept the nation these past months.

The severity of these events is attributed to the weather pattern known as La Niña. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the phenomenon will continue to influence the weather well throughout the winter months.

In a study released last Friday, the University of Miami cited La Niña as the major factor for pushing Hurricane Irene inland to New York. La Niña is the cooling of the sea temperature in the Pacific Ocean. Not only does it have a significant effect on temperatures, but it also interferes with wind shears, a naturally occurring phenomenon that reduces the strength of tropical storms and hurricanes.

According to Meteorologist Peter Yeager, "During years that La Niña is in effect, there is a decrease in the vertical wind shear thousands of feet over the Caribbean Sea and tropical Atlantic that gives hurricanes a chance to form and strengthen before they are blown apart."

When Irene hit land, it was physically one-third the size of the United States. Irene was linked to 45 deaths and is estimated to have caused approximately $7 billion in damage. Senior LeAaron Foley, a major in Public Policy, had been planning a road trip to Washington D.C. to see the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.

"My fraternity brothers and I were planning on leaving Chicago until we saw a press conference regarding the potential severity of the weather. My mom and a few other brothers' parents had no interest in us making the drive out east that night. But it was for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Memorial. I had to go! But then again, we would be driving towards a hurricane," he explained.

Although Foley was able to avoid the tropical storm conditions on the East Coast, La Niña had a tremendous effect on weather patterns across the country. Chicago saw one of its dampest summers in years, as this July went on record as the wettest in 122 years.

The Black Student Union had to deal with the effects of such weather when their office was flooded after a fierce downpour.

Junior Kristin Lansdown, Women and Gender Studies/Psychology major and community service coordinator for the group, said, "I went to the office after a weekend of rain to find the office soaked. The carpets were wet, and the ceiling was dripping water. The water destroyed some of promotional and advertising materials."

Unfortunately, La Niña is not expected to dissipate any time soon as its cycle lasts 9 to 12 months. With La Niña last year, the U.S. saw extreme cold temperatures and intense blizzards. NOAA predicts colder winters in the Pacific and Plains regions this year, while Southern states will have warm dry winters.

Although Chicagoans have braved countless bitter winters in the past, residents will again have to bare colder temperatures this season as a result of La Niña. While not a definitive prediction, NOAA's Climate Predictions Center doesn't foresee La Niña letting up anytime soon.

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