February 2, 2006

La Nina to affect U.S. weather into summer: NOAA

By Christopher Doering

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The return of a La Nina weather
pattern this year will likely mean drought in southern and
southwestern U.S. states, government forecasters said on
Thursday, adding it was too early to tell if La Nina would also
lead to more Atlantic hurricanes in 2006.

La Nina is an unusual cooling of Pacific Ocean surface
temperatures, which can trigger widespread changes in weather
around the world. Forecasters with the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration said La Nina could wreak havoc on
U.S. weather through late spring, and possibly into the summer.

"It's a minimal La Nina right now. It's just crossed the
threshold," said Ed O'Lenic, meteorologist with NOAA's Climate
Prediction Center. "There is some enhanced uncertainty as we
get into the spring," he said.

La Nina is forecast to bring dry weather to parts of the
South and Southwest from Arizona to Arkansas and Louisiana,
NOAA said. The unusual weather pattern also will bring above
normal precipitation to the Northwest and the Tennessee Valley

A lingering drought could be detrimental to the South,
especially in Texas, the top cotton growing state in the
country and whose farms are reeling from severe drought.

"(La Nina) is adding fuel to the fire," said Sharon
Johnson, a cotton expert for First Capitol Group in Atlanta,
Georgia. "We were already nervous about the potential to make a
smaller crop this year because of West Texas" which is feeling
the largest impact from the drought, she added.

NOAA also said that while La Nina can mean increased
hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean, it was too soon to
say what impact it will have this year.

Last year was the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on
record, with 26 named storms and 13 hurricanes. Four major
hurricanes made landfall in the United States, including Rita
and Katrina, which pounded the U.S. Gulf Coast in August and
September with heavy rains and wind.

NOAA previously warned that the hurricane season -- which
typically peaks between August 1 and late October -- could be
active again in 2006.

A La Nina weather pattern occurs about every three to five
years. The last one was in 2000-2001, but it was relatively

La Nina, which means "infant girl" in Spanish, is generally
the opposite of an El Nino weather pattern where the ocean
waters warm.

NOAA will release its U.S. spring weather outlook in
mid-March and its forecast for the Atlantic and Pacific
hurricane seasons in mid-May.