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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook

• An Unconventional La Niña •


The La Niña weather phenomenon that is generally acknowledged by meteorologists to be the dominant factor in the type of winter that Malibu is now experiencing is not the textbook señorita that locals have come to associate with the term.
Cooler than normal temperatures fit the standard definition, but all of this rain? La Niñas are supposed be defined by drier weather conditions. That doesn’t mean that there may not be any rainfall, but this winter’s record-breaking numbers are more usually associated with La Niña’s male counterpart, El Niño.
El Niño is Spanish for “the boy” and may be a reference to the Christ child, because periodic warming in the Pacific near South America was often noticed close to Christmas. The name La Niña also originates from Spanish, meaning “the girl,” which was named accordingly to stress juxtaposition. La Niñas have also been called anti-El Niños, and El Viejos, “old men.”
The textbook La Niña is usually the opposite of the textbook El Niño. La Niña causes above average precipitation in the northern part of our hemisphere, and takes a stingier approach to rainfall in Malibu and other more southern areas.
Malibu winters, during the El Niño effect, are considerably wetter, while drier than average conditions dominate the North and Northwest. Malibu has experienced most its worst flood conditions during El Niños, especially when they have followed close on the heels of a wildfire that denuded the watershed.
Meteorologists who are not locked into a particular climatic polemic, generally agree that the last few decades have resulted in a greater number of El Niños and fewer La Niñas at closer time intervals than was traditional.
One of the interesting debates among the experts and rank-and-file weatherholics is whether this is attributable to random chance or has become a new pattern for the El Niño-La Niña cyclical relationship. This debate usually winds up with the various sides becoming enmeshed in disagreement about the effects of global warming, or whether it exists at all.
Whatever the causes, these phenomena are changing. The extent of change may depend on variables that are not yet known or understood. This is not just something of interest to Malibuites trying to decide whether they should carry an umbrella when they head outdoors. Alterations in traditional weather patterns can have major economic and political consequences.

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