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'Little Girl' fading, Georgia thunderstorms coming

"The Little Girl" is fading, so a University of Georgia specialist says Georgians can expect the standard summer weather: hot temperatures with hit-or-miss thunderstorms fueled by high humidity.

Late last year, the subsurface waters near the coasts of Equador and Peru in South America began to cool. Weather experts call this event a "La Niña," Spanish for "the little girl," said Joel Paz, an agrometeorologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

La Niña is one phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, the name given to the periodic cooling and warming of the eastern central Pacific Ocean. An El Niño phase is when the water warms above the average.

La Niña brings warmer, drier winters and springs to the Southeast. An El Niño does the opposite, he said. A La Niña period that extended from fall 1998 through 2001 contributed to severe drought in Georgia and the Southeast.

The dry, warm weather brought to the Southeast by the latest La Niña lingers still. Over the past two weeks, daytime temperatures have been 5 degrees to 10 degrees above normal in Georgia.

Soil moisture now is rated about 60 percent short or very short, compared to 46 percent this time last year, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service, which surveys UGA Cooperative Extension county agents for data.

"We are currently on the way back to a more neutral phase," Paz said. "But it isn't like flipping a light switch. The current dry spell in Georgia can be attributed to the lingering effects of a La Niña phase."

It's tough to figure out what the weather will be like during a particular day or month, he said. "But it is safe to say that Georgia's summer will likely be hot and humid."

Neutral conditions generally mean rainfall patterns will vary this summer. It also means there will be nothing to stop afternoon thunderstorms, or convective rains, from forming regularly across the state this month.

"Many parts of the state are dry, and farmers are having to run irrigation for their crops," he said. "But hopefully in a few weeks we will be seeing more rainfall. ... We certainly need it now."

To learn more about neutral, El Niño or La Niña weather phases and how they affect weather in the Southeast, go to the Web sites www.georgiaweather.net or www.agclimate.org.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

NASA
NASA

La Nina ia s temporary climate change caused by unusually cold water in the central Pacific Ocean. The earth is shown in a La Nina phase.

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La Nina ia s temporary climate change caused by unusually cold water in the central Pacific Ocean. The earth is shown in a La Nina phase. Download Image
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