What can we expect out of a third La Niña winter this year?
SPOKANE, Wash.– When we hear “La Niña” in the Northwest, it comes with certain expectations. It’s for good reason, too.
The La Niña phase of the Southern Oscillation climate cycle tips the scales towards more storms, snow, and colder temperatures in our region. On average, we see 25% more snow around the Inland Northwest during a La Niña winter compared to a year without La Niña.
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La Niñas come in pairs more often than not, with a history of the second winter being above average even if the first winter was a dud. The story is opposite so far in the 2000s, where only one out of four “second La Niña years” this century had above-average snow in Spokane.
Three La Niña winters in a row is a lot rarer. There are only four triple-dip La Niñas since 1900. There’s not much of a pattern except for the fact that none of those years had above-average snowfall. Triple-dip years in the early 1900s were actually pretty dry. Another interesting tidbit is that only one of those years was significantly colder than average. Four years isn’t enough data to make any meaningful predictions though.
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We’re likely to keep seeing more La Niñas more often too, which should make snow lovers happy in the short term.
A study from the University of Washington says that La Niña is becoming more common, and there’s no clear answer why. In fact, La Niñas opposite end of the cycle, El Niño, is thought by climate scientists to become dominant because of global warming. This study says that human-forced climate change is likely a factor in the trend toward La Niña, but there is a lot to learn about why that’s the case. The study’s authors still believe we are on the road to more El Niños with global warming, but the path to get there is a big mystery for scientists to solve.
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