La Niña Is Headed Our Way, But a Cooler Summer May Not Be Coming With It

May 9, 2024

Typical La Niña Weather Pattern

Our planet is, at last, trending out of the heat-inducing El Niño climate pattern that’s been around since early 2023. Within weeks, it should be replaced by the cooler La Niña cycle. But does that mean a milder summer is on tap across the US mainland? Not necessarily. 

Last year was the hottest on record. It was thanks in part to El Niño. This climate pattern warms the surface of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It also sends hotter weather across the globe. La Niña, by contrast, is a cooler climate pattern. It's marked by milder ocean surface temperatures in the central and east-central Pacific. The two climate cycles commonly rotate every three to five years. But they can change more quickly, too.

La Niña usually offers a cool-down for the Lower 48 US states. But that was before climate change so quickly captured our world. 

Besides El Niño, the heat of 2023 was also brought on by climate change. The latter is driven by humans burning ever more amounts of fossil fuels like gasoline. All of this pushes greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. And this traps heat on Earth’s surface.

Indeed, recent history might suggest many parts of the US are in store for another wickedly hot summer. For instance, 2016 saw one of the hottest summers ever, even though La Niña conditions were in place by midsummer of that year. Summer 2020 was much the same, marked by sweltering heat and an active hurricane season.

“This obviously isn’t our grandmother’s transition out of El Niño — we’re in a much warmer world so the impacts will be different,” Michelle L’Heureux, a scientist with the Climate Prediction Center, explained to CNN. “We’re seeing the consequences of climate change.” 

Reflect: What are your plans for the summer, and how might the weather affect them?

Based on the information in the article, what could change the weather pattern shown in the infographic? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. El Niño
b. climate change
c. warmer waters in the Atlantic Ocean
d. colder waters in the Atlantic Ocean
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