I already know the answer. So here’s the question, is it possible to get decent weather predictions for winter now that we know about La Nina? Recently Jeff Anderson, an NMSU Horticulturalist, suggested to Diana Alba in a Sun News article, the long range forecast for southern New Mexico indicates the strong effects from La Niña may mean we have another cold winter ahead of us. The recent rains and cold temperatures over the Thanksgiving weekend while not unusual for this time of year, they are part of the La Niña. Yet, when it rains at this time of year, in the middle of the day the sky can look like a full moon at night. Dark blue sky, brilliant white behind the clouds with warm temperatures makes it easy to go outside and enjoy the rain. The dust in your teeth and on your car are but a small price to pay. And seriously, how cold are we talking here?
As a gardener, I decided I would visit my friend Max Bleiweiss, a geophysicist, and get more information on La Nina. He works at NMSU, and is the founder of the CARSAME Center. The Center is a remote sensing research resource for our region. Remote sensing is a scientific term to describe the process of using instruments to measure things like temperature from a distance. Max’s and his son Mark own the M. Phillips’s Gallery on the downtown mall. Combining a visit to the Farmer’s Market on a blustery Saturday, with a stop at the Gallery – there are cookies, and getting the low down on weather prediction for this article was a win-win-win.
Max and I met in 1998 when he was working to develop more capability at NMSU to enable farmers, ranchers, city and county planners, and resource managers in the state to use satellite data to help increase efficiency in farming, ranching and planning. For example, Max was helping people use satellite data to make more informed decisions on causes and effects of dust storms in our area. Once people saw most of the dust storms that hit Deming and I-25 in the Spring originate in the Sonoran desert in Mexico, it became more strategic to work with Mexican farmers to work the problem together. He came to me because of my work with NASA and because of my job with the New Mexico Space Grant. NASA was involved in developing and operating the Earth Observing System (EOS). We started funding classes, students, and writing grants to bring more research capacity to NMSU in this area.
When I spoke with Max about the current La Niña I asked him for his best advice on following the La Niña. He suggested the best way to stay on top of the development of different weather patterns is to go to the NOAA website on La Niña http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/lanina.html. According to the website, La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.
Ok, back to weather prediction. Frankly, I’d like to know if I need to get my reservation in early with my gardener. Last year after the freeze, getting him to come over was harder than getting a plumber on Sunday. Max explained, scientists don’t understand the cause-and-effect relationships among Earth's lands, oceans, and atmosphere well enough to predict what, if any, impacts these rapid changes will have on future climate conditions. Scientists need to make many measurements all over the world, over a long period of time, in order to assemble the information needed to construct accurate computer models that will enable them to forecast the causes and effects of weather. The only feasible way to collect this information is through the use of space-based Earth observing satellites.
I figured it was a long shot. Since Max and I first met, the government has consolidated a great deal of its weather prediction resources and as the NOAA site will indicate, into The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The field of weather prediction is evolving. Developing the sensors is a big part of the effort and it has taken many years. Correlating data from across the globe, coming from sensors of different types that measure different weather patterns is a large problem. Rats. Max suggested if you would like a good conversation about this, David DuBois at New Mexico State will be a good person to talk to. I hope you enjoy the weather, and get prepared.