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Contact: John Leslie


Record snowfall and sub-zero temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast, heavy rains in the Northwest, and conditions that have fueled tornado outbreaks in the South resemble the characteristics of La Niña predicted last September by meteorologists with the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The latest forecast from NOAA's National Weather Service reveals La Niña will linger through June, if not longer.

La Niña, the climatic opposite of El Niño, is defined as cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean that impact global weather patterns. Conditions for this cold episode strengthened throughout the tropical Pacific in December, as sea surface temperatures continued to drop. A month later, many Americans are feeling the effects.

"The conditions we're seeing that are generating weather extremes this winter are largely consistent with La Niña," said Ed O'Lenic, a forecaster at the NWS' Climate Prediction Center. "Everyone should be prepared because extreme weather may reoccur this cold season," he added.

Scientists at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, the national center for severe weather forecasting, report a preliminary count of 101 tornadoes since the new year, breaking the national record for the most tornadoes ever recorded during the month of January. The previous high total was 52 in January 1975.

The NWS is reporting extreme conditions this winter in many parts of the country. In January alone, Buffalo, N.Y., has received 63.5 inches of snow; South Bend, Ind., has measured 36.7 inches, and Chicago broke a single day snowfall record for the city with 18.6 inches on Jan. 2. Indiana and Maine set all-time temperature records in their states with readings of -36 degrees and -55 degrees respectively.

Thirty-one tornadoes touched down in parts of Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, on Jan. 17, followed by another outbreak of 55 tornadoes across the South on
Jan. 21-22.

La Niña pushes unusually warm air farther to the north and unusually cold air farther to the south, making conditions ripe for severe, warm-weather events -- such as tornadoes -- to happen in the winter, O'Lenic explained.

The latest forecast calls for continued abnormal wetness in the Northwest, the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley; abnormal dryness in the Southwest to the central and southern Great Plains, and in Florida and southern sections of Alabama and Georgia. Meanwhile, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and areas in the Southwest can expect above- normal temperatures. Sections of the Northwest, plus areas from Minnesota across the Great Lakes to northern Pennsylvania, New York and New England, will experience abnormally cold temperatures. In addition, extended periods of rain may cause widespread flooding well into next week over an area extending from Iowa, eastward to the Atlantic Coast of Southern New England.

Joseph Schaefer, director of the Storm Prediction Center, said that while climatic events such as El Niño and La Niña "set the stage" in determining large scale precipitation patterns, the conditions that cause tornado development act on a much smaller scale. "Be prepared. Remember that tornadoes can occur in winter," he cautioned.

With the threat of severe weather always possible, the NWS urges families, communities and businesses to have a severe weather action plan, including ways to seek safety immediately when at home, work, school or outdoors.

The plan also should include keeping a battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio nearby. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts up-to-the-minute NWS forecasts and warnings 24 hours a day. The radios also come with a tone-alert feature, which allows users to program it to automatically sound an alarm once a watch or warning is issued for their immediate area -- even when they are asleep.

NOTE TO EDITORS: For more information on La Niña predictions and other background, visit NOAA's Climate Prediction Center online at:
For further details about severe storm safety and preparedness, check: