Has El Niño lost sense of direction?

Do you want to know what's really going on with the weather?

Are we experiencing normal abnormalities? Spikes in ocean temperatures? The coming global superstorm?

Is the apocalypse at our back door?

If you're wondering, or a tad skeptical of the connection between this year's weird weather to global warming, you're in good company.

So is the Western Regional Climate Center, which tracks weather patterns days, weeks and months away.

Anomalous is the key word for this winter season. From coast-to-coast, far and wide, the nation has seen some dramatic, if not spectacular, events that have baffled those who study climate for a living.

In what he calls a "weak to moderate" El Niño, the lead scientist for the Reno-based climate center says this has been a strange year for the phenomenon, known as a tropical weather pattern of warm water that originates in the Pacific Ocean off of South America.

"It has been an interesting and unusual winter across the entire West," said Kelly Redmond, who heads the climate center with the Desert Research Institute.

In a traditional El Niño pattern, the Northwest experiences bone-dry conditions, while Southern California sometimes undergoes systematic periods of heavy rain, which sometimes results in flooding and mudslides in the usually parched desert.

But this atypical pattern has flopped its course, with the Northwest getting the brunt of the storms, with Southern California, for the most part, remaining high and dry.

"The El Niño hasn't really panned out," said Brian O'Hara, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno.

He noted the Tahoe-Reno area typically doesn't see much of the El Niño because of the traditional north/south split with Central California and the Sierra Nevada in the middle of the split.

"But this season, you're seeing almost the entire opposite" of how an El Niño reacts, O'Hara said.

Added to this was the Arctic cold system that gripped much of the West and Midwest sections last month.

What was unusual about the event was not so much the cold, but the size and scope of the frigid mass.

Scientists like Redmond agree the system was one of the coldest in the last 50 to 55 years.

Like a sleuth on the trail of some elusive thief, Redmond describes the strange weather in terms of what is known and unknown, the facts, what's rhetorical and theoretic.

"I don't have the usual suspects lined up. We need a new suspect. But for right now, we can't seem to figure out what that suspect looks like," he said.

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