Confirming previous assumptions developed over the past few weeks, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center announced the official return of La Niña. The periodic cooling of ocean waters in the east-central equatorial Pacific favors increased Atlantic hurricane activity and can impact the typical alignment of weather patterns around the globe.
NOAA forecasters had predicted La Niña was forming nearly three weeks ago. Oceanic sea surface temperatures have met the operational definition of La Niña for the November through January period. NOAA predicts this La Niña event will likely remain into late spring, and possibly into summer.
"In mid-January the atmosphere over the eastern North Pacific and western U.S. began to exhibit typical La Niña characteristics in response to the cooling in the tropical central Pacific Ocean," said vice admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "This pattern will favor continued drought in parts of the South and Southwest from Arizona to Arkansas and Louisiana, and above normal precipitation in the Northwest and the Tennessee Valley area." Periodic precipitation in the drought areas and dryness in the stormy areas also are typical within the larger scale climate pattern described above.
While it is well known that La Niña events favor increased Atlantic hurricane activity, Jim Laver, director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center says, "It is too early to say with confidence what effects this La Niña event will have on the 2006 hurricane season."
The natural gas industry can ill afford another Atlantic hurricane season like the one seen in 2005, when storm activity records were broken and three strong hurricanes impacted oil and natural gas production and transportation activity in the Gulf of Mexico. As of Jan. 25, Gulf operations have lost 609.261 Bcf due to the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which is equivalent to 16.69% of the 3.65 Tcf in yearly production of gas from the Gulf. As of Jan. 25, shut-in Gulf gas production still stands at 1.656 Bcf/d.
La Niña events recur approximately every three to five years. The last La Niña occurred in 2000-2001 and was a relatively weak event compared to the 1998-2000 event.
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