La Niña Is Likely on the Way

A view of North America on April 29, 2016, from NASA’s DSCOVR:EPIC satellite. Image credit: NASA

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The intense El Niño we saw this winter captured the imaginations of headline writers around the world for more than a year, earning the outlandish moniker “Godzilla El Niño” to convey to an entertainment-thirsty public just how unusually strong the phenomenon had gotten. The event will soon be a memory as it’s quickly fading away, likely to be replaced by the opposite anomaly—a La Niña—in the coming months.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center released its monthly report on May 12 signaling that El Niño’s end is nigh and La Niña won’t be far behind. Since we call this unusually warm water “the little boy” in Spanish (named in honor of the baby Jesus, as it was discovered around Christmas), we call unusually cold water in this part of the Pacific Ocean “the little girl,” or La Niña.

An El Niño is simply the presence of warmer-than-normal water in the eastern Pacific Ocean. It’s not a storm that crashes ashore or something that’s out for blood. Scientists officially classify the event an El Niño when the surface waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean around the equator grow abnormally warm for a long period of time, clocking in at 0.5°C above average for seven straight months.

Climate models show a swift transition from El Niño to a La Niña by this summer. Image credit: Climate Prediction Center

It’s hard to believe that such a tiny uptick in water temperatures can have a dramatic effect around the world, but like a fever in the human body, even that minuscule change in temperature can significantly alter weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean, creating a ripple effect that travels around the world. We’re familiar with El Niño in the United States as it has historically helped flooding rains drench places like California during the winter months, but as still-parched Californians found out this year, each event is different, and not all of them affect the weather as we would expect.

There’s always a chance that this La Niña doesn’t come to pass as predicted—long-range forecasts like this are still relatively new, so the predictions aren’t exactly foolproof. The experts note, however, that most major models show a very fast transition to a La Niña over the next couple of months, and their report this week put the odds of La Niña conditions existing by autumn at 75 percent.

The conditions used to measure a La Niña event are exactly the same as those used to measure an El Niño, just reversed: We have to measure water that’s 0.5°C colder than normal for seven consecutive months. Like its toasty counterpart, La Niña can have a big effect on global weather patterns depending on its strength and how long it lasts.

Typical weather patterns one would expect to see during a winter influenced by La Niña. Image credit: National Weather Service

While it can help bring warm and rainy conditions to parts of Australia and southeast Asia, La Niña doesn’t normally have a noticeable effect on summer weather in the United States. The most significant impact a La Niña can have on the U.S. during the summer and fall months is by way of an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean.

The warm waters of an El Niño create thunderstorm activity that vents large amounts of air northeast into the Atlantic, ripping apart thunderstorms that may have otherwise become tropical cyclones. When a La Niña is present, though, the cold water kills most thunderstorm activity in the eastern Pacific, spreading little to no wind shear over the Atlantic. This makes conditions more favorable for hurricanes to develop and possibly grow quite strong.

If the expected La Niña continues through the winter, past events tell us that it could bring warmer temperatures to the southern U.S. and above-average precipitation to northern sections of the country.

6 Signs You're Getting Hangry

Hangry (adjective): Bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger. This portmanteau (of hungry and angry) is not only officially recognized as a word by the Oxford English Dictionary, but it's also recognized by health experts as a real physiological state with mood-altering consequences.

That hangry feeling results from your body's glucose level dropping, putting you into a state of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Glucose is the body's primary source of energy, so when you don't have enough, it affects your brain and other bodily functions, including the production of the hormones insulin and glucagon, which help regulate blood sugar. Check out the symptoms below to see if you've crossed over into the hanger danger zone.


A woman naps at her desk

Glucose equals energy, so when your blood sugar levels are low, you may start wishing you were back in bed with the shades drawn. If you start feeling sluggish or tired even though you’re well-rested, you might just need to eat something.


It’s hard to concentrate when all you can think about is whether you're going to order the fish or beef tacos for lunch. The distraction goes beyond fantasies about food, though. The brain derives most of its energy from glucose, so when it's low on fuel, a serious case of brain fog can set in. Confusion and difficulty speaking are among the more serious symptoms you may experience when you're hangry.


Blame this on brain fog too. The gray matter in your noggin goes a little haywire when blood sugar is in short supply. That's why you may start stuttering or slurring your words. You might also have difficulty finding your words at all—it can feel like your mouth and brain are disconnected.


Tremors and dizziness are both signs that you should pay closer attention to your body, which is screaming, "Feed me!" Once again, low blood sugar is often the culprit of trembling hands and feeling faint, and exhaustion and stress make the symptoms worse.


A woman looking frustrated at work

You’re tense and irritable, and it’s starting to show. Hunger causes your body to release cortisol and adrenaline, the same hormones responsible for stress. This can put you on edge and lower your tolerance for other people’s quirks and irksome habits, which suddenly seem a lot less bearable.


A couple arguing in their kitchen

Not only are you irritable, but you’re more likely to lash out at others because of it. The doses of adrenaline and cortisol in your body can induce a fight-or-flight response and make you go on the attack over matters that—if you had some food in you—would seem unimportant.

So what should you do if these descriptions sound all too familiar? Eat a snack, pronto—one with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. The first one brings up your blood sugar level, and the other two slow down how fast the carbohydrates are absorbed, helping you to avoid a sugar crash and maintain a normal blood sugar level. Eating small meals every few hours also helps to keep hanger at bay.

Astronomers Discover 12 New Moons Around Jupiter

As the largest planet with the largest moon in our solar system, Jupiter is a body of record-setting proportions. The fifth planet from the Sun also boasts the most moons—and scientists just raised the count to 79.

A team of astronomers led by Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science confirmed the existence of 12 additional moons of Jupiter, 11 of which are “normal” outer moons, according to a statement from the institute. The outlier is being called an “oddball” for its bizarre orbit and diminutive size, which is about six-tenths of a mile in diameter.

The moons were first observed in the spring of 2017 while scientists looked for theoretical planet beyond Pluto, but several additional observations were needed to confirm that the celestial bodies were in fact orbiting around Jupiter. That process took a year.

“Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant solar system objects, so we were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our solar system,” Sheppard said in a statement.

Nine of the "normal" moons take about two years to orbit Jupiter in retrograde, or counter to the direction in which Jupiter spins. Scientists believe these moons are what’s left of three larger parent bodies that splintered in collisions with asteroids, comets, or other objects. The two other "normal" moons orbit in the prograde (same direction as Jupiter) and take less than a year to travel around the planet. They’re also thought to be chunks of a once-larger moon.

The oddball, on the other hand, is “more distant and more inclined” than the prograde moons. Although it orbits in prograde, it crosses the orbits of the retrograde moons, which could lead to some head-on collisions. The mass is believed to be Jupiter’s smallest moon, and scientists have suggested naming it Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, who happens to be the great-granddaughter of the god Jupiter.


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