“Monsoon-on-steroids”: Rare Triple-Dip La Niña Creates Perilous Global Conditions

Balochistan province in Pakistan suffering from heavy monsoon rains.

Fida Hussein/AFP

Balochistan province in Pakistan suffering from heavy monsoon rains.

Gia Patel, General Writer

The La Niña weather pattern is categorized by the periodic cooling of ocean surface temperatures in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific. This is due to the occurrence of strong winds blowing warm water on the Pacific Ocean surface to the coast of South America, parts of Asia, and Australia. The strong winds cause cooler water in the Pacific to rise to the surface, altering typical weather patterns globally. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, La Niña leads to arid conditions in the southwestern United States as well as heavy rainfall in Australia.

This year, La Niña earned the title of “triple dip,” meaning it is the third consecutive year that the weather pattern has dictated global conditions. This is only the third time there has been a triple-dip La Niña since 1950. While La Niña is a natural, recurring phenomenon, its coexistence with human-induced climate change caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions has exacerbated droughts and flooding. The inflated severeness in weather conditions has led to worsened floods, droughts, storms, and fires along with the destruction of homes and crops. By the end of 2023, the damages caused by La Niña’s prolonged presence will have crept close to $1 trillion globally. 

Currently, La Niña has struck Pakistan with heavier-than-usual monsoon rain, leading to severe floods. Monsoons are seasonal wind shifts that bring moist air to South Asia during the summer. They provide 65-75% of Pakistan’s annual water, playing a critical role in farming and access to drinking water. However, António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, refers to the current weather status in Pakistan as a “monsoon on steroids.” The cooler water temperatures caused by La Niña have pushed strong winds across the Pacific Ocean and enhanced monsoonal rainfall in South Asia. This has led to an outpour of precipitation over the region. As of September, the Pakistan floods have taken the lives of 1,500 people, half of which are children, and impacted the lives of another 33 million. 

In the United States, La Niña has intensified the arid conditions of California. 

As rain clouds are pushed out to sea by strong trade winds, the southwestern region of the U.S. becomes drier than usual. The high temperatures and dry skies have proven to carry pressing consequences. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 99.77% of California is in a drought, and 16% is experiencing exceptional drought. Although drought is not uncommon in California, the excessive dryness of the region has also encouraged environments in which wildfires thrive. The combination of drought and fires puts stress on the country’s food production. California supplies 46% of the U.S. fruit and nut production and 49% of the national fresh market vegetable production. La Niña has distressed our country’s food market, more specifically though, it has taken a toll on the berry supply. California produces about 90% of the nation’s strawberries, but the severe drought threatens its ample supply. Many people in the Weddington area have encountered this impact from the drought. Several of our local grocery stores are beginning to lack a steady supply of strawberries. 

On a more local level, La Niña typically brings warmer winters and drier-than-average conditions to the southeastern United States, including North Carolina. Total winter snowfall and the number of heavy snowstorms are expected to decrease. Evidently, according to Spectrum News, last winter (2021-2022) was the 10th-warmest on record for North Carolina since 1895. However, even with La Niña creating a warm winter, snowfall and cold weather can still be a possibility in the following months. If there are periods of colder air, snow and ice could still fall similar to the weekends of snow we locally experienced in January.