Happy New Year Everyone! Despite all that is going on, I hope you and your families and loved ones had a great Christmas season.

I have been looking at the weather patterns and predictions as we now head into the heart of winter. As you know, we are in a La Niña weather pattern. La Niña is a weather pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean. In this pattern, strong winds blow warm water at the ocean’s surface from South America to Indonesia. As the warm water moves west, cold water from the deep rises to the surface near the coast of South America. In the winter of a La Niña year, these winds are much stronger than usual. This makes the water in the Pacific Ocean near the equator a few degrees colder than it usually is. Even this small change in the ocean’s temperature can affect weather all over the world. These changes in the atmosphere can lead to more lightning activity within the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. Also, the environmental conditions during La Niña can lead to more tropical cyclones, which we saw with the record-breaking 30 named storms and 12 landfalling storms in the continental United States.

On average, La Niña would likely bring us warmer temperatures and drier than normal conditions. However, from time to time, we’re likely going to see some shots of very cold air. As you know, the prediction was for precipitation to be below normal. But we’ve seen a ton of rain this season. Nothing has been making much sense. I know there is going to be a winter storm this winter. Maybe several storms. I recall an event several years ago where between 10 p.m. and midnight on a Sunday, an area of intense snow developed along and just north of the I-20 corridor, contributing to a narrow band of between 6 and 8.5 inches of snowfall amounts in Eastern Georgia. In the northern-most counties of Georgia, and especially at higher elevations, snowfall amounts of 8” to 10” were common. I also believe we have a chance for a significant ice event as well. We had a sneak preview with ice last month at the northern reaches of the lake.

I know in January we are all thinking of cold and wintry weather. I want to point out we don’t just have to worry about wintry weather this month, but also a higher risk for severe storms and tornadoes. 2008 was another La Niña year. Do you remember the Atlanta tornado outbreak that affected the Southeastern United States on March 14-15, 2008? A tornado
caused widespread damage across downtown Atlanta, including to the CNN Center and to the Georgia Dome, leading to the 2008 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament being affected.

The following spring, Mother’s Day will be remembered by many in Georgia as a day of fury by Mother Nature. Severe thunderstorms plowed through portions of North and Central  Georgia during the morning hours of May 11, 2008 resulting in damaging wind, large hail and several tornadoes. At least two people were killed by a tornado and several were injured. The state insurance commissioner’s office estimated insured damages of at least $125 million. The damage was so extensive in 11 counties in northern and central Georgia that Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency. A state of emergency was also declared in some counties in South Georgia. Some schools were closed for a couple of days.

I want you to be weather aware this winter and spring. La Niña is a challenge!