- New images from a United States-French weather satellite
show this winter will likely be a repeat of last year's La Nina conditions,
with drier-than-normal weather in the American Southwest and unusually
wet weather in the Pacific Northwest.
- The TOPEX/Poseidon image, containing data gathered between
October 5-15 and released Wednesday, shows a massing of cooler-than-normal
water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The phenomenon, known as La Nina,
is the flip-flop of its warm-water cousin El Nino.
- Bill Patzert, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California said the new image shows a weak to moderate
La Nina situation coming back after a summer spent in "hibernation."
- "The jet stream is going to be fueled up in the
western Pacific, so from San Francisco north, it's going to be déjà
vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra," Patzert said. "It's
going to be pretty stormy in the Pacific Northwest and dry in Southern
- For the 12 months that ended June 30, 1999, Southern
California received about half as much rainfall as it does on average.
In the Pacific Northwest, however, La Nina brought on record amounts of
- At the Mt. Baker Ski Area in Washington, 95 feet (29
meters) of snow fell, setting a new world record.
- "We had to close for two days at the end of February
to dig the chairlifts out," said Patrick Renau, operations manager
for the ski resort. "We had to make ditches to get the lifts through,
otherwise you would sit in the chairs and your feet would drag in the snow."
- Vernon Kousky, a research meteorologist with the Climate
Prediction Center in Washington, D.C. said weather models, which include
TOPEX/Poseidon data, indicate La Nina's effects probably will not be as
- "We're also anticipating a lot of variability in
this year's pattern, but no where near the persistence of last year's pattern,"
- TOPEX/Poseidon, launched in August 1992 and managed by
JPL, measures global sea levels every 10 days with unprecedented accuracy.
- Sea height in turn gives an indication of the ocean water's
temperature, with warmer water generally higher than cooler. In the satellite
image, cooler waters are blue to purple, indicating they are about 6 inches
(14 centimeters) lower than normal. Warmer are red to white, indicating
they are about 8 inches (20 centimeters) higher than normal. Normal ocean
heights are shown as green.
- Patzert said the satellite images are a reminder of the
often not-too-delicate relationship between the Earth's oceans and its
- "The ocean is like an elephant, and the atmosphere
a ballerina," Patzert said. "And every fall, the atmosphere waits
to hear from the elephant what to do."