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Weather issues surface at conference

Could we be experiencing La Nada – the cross between El Nino and La Nina? Is there a correlation between these major weather events and global changes? How have technological advancements affected the science?

Meteorologists from across the nation wrapped up Operation Sierra Storm: the 8th annual Meteorological Conference at the Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Thursday with a debate on weather issues like these.

Granted, meteorology is not an exact science. Moreover, the sheer nature of science commands a theorist to prove or disprove a hypothesis.



That’s what makes the job so difficult for those on the front lines of the weather fronts, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Communications Director John Kermond contends.

Kermond, a keynote speaker at the conference, addressed the El Nino and La Nina as the largest climate events of the century. The tropical weather phenomenons that originate off the coast of South America alter atmospheric conditions through warm or cooler water masses in the Pacific Ocean.




For the first time in three years, the tropics aren’t running unusually hot or cold, and some believe the neutral conditions are leaving climatologists high and dry.

Unlike El Nino and La Nina years, nothing appears strong enough to dominate the complex climate system.

“I don’t believe the Pacific has a mutual phase anymore. It’s either in El Nino or La Nina or moving toward one. It doesn’t just sit and do nothing,” Kermond said after his presentation. “Right now, it’s making up its mind. We’re in neither.”

However, the basin is more likely to next experience a shift to El Nino because of the routine rotation between the two climate events, Kermond insisted. They occur between two to seven years.

As in the winter of 1997-98 with El Nino conditions, westward-blowing trade winds weaken and a mass of warm water in the western equatorial Pacific pulse eastward toward South America. Sea surface temperatures can surge as much as 14 degrees above normal.

In the last quarter century, El Ninos have been more frequent, less regular and somewhat more severe than in the preceding 100 years.

In a complicated chain of events, the warmer water leads to droughts in Indonesia on the western side of the Pacific. To the east, El Nino brings record rainfall in California.

With the dividing line falling somewhere around Eureka, Calif, the Lake Tahoe Basin is more affected by wetter than usual conditions during El Ninos, according to the National Weather Service.

The potent El Nino of 1982-83 was the largest of the century. It crashed 40-foot waves into Southern California beaches, dumped double the normal rainfall on Los Angeles and triggered a wet winter in the Northwest where El Ninos typically bring drier weather.

The 1997-98 El Nino was the second warmest on record and the seventh wettest since 1895. Losses totaled $1.1 billion in California alone. The tourism industry in the United States lost $18 million to $200 million.

“This El Nino is not simple, discreet or clearly defined. It’s mixed up and confusing,” Kermond said.

That’s why the advancements in technology like the 69 weather buoys anchored off the Pacific are imperative to forecasters making better predictions, Kermond stressed.

“The big picture is, if we are changing the global system, we need to find out as much as we can,” Kermond said. “And that saves money and lives.” he added, turning to this last year to illustrate his point.

The year 2000 was a record year for natural disasters, but fewer deaths occurred.

In 1999, 75,000 lives were claimed as a result of severe storms. That amount decreased to 10,000 the following year.

“I think something is going on globally,” he said.

He pointed to spring coming a week earlier in the Northern Hemisphere, severe rainstorms up 20 percent, the Arctic ice sheet at 40 inches thinner, rising sea levels, carbon dioxide levels up and the massive coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.

Human activity, in terms of using internal combustion engines, has increased the earth’s average temperature by 1 degree this century, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. It’s an assembly of the top climatologists on the planet.

The IPCC predicts an increase of 2 to 6 degrees over the next century. A 2 degree rise would be very serious; 6 degrees would be catastrophic, the IPCC reported.


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