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La Niña's grip on Queensland, Australia


Click on the photo for a closer look at what's being called the worst natural disaster in the country's history
Click on the photo for a closer look at what's being called the worst natural disaster in the country's history

Andrea Stockton, staff writer

January 14, 2011 — A powerful La Niña weather pattern is influencing the destructive flooding across Queensland, Australia.

Flood waters submerge several homes in Queensland. This fridge was completely filled with mud
Flood waters submerge several homes in Queensland. This fridge was completely filled with mud

Heavy rain that has been pounding Queensland, Australia since before Christmas has had a deadly and destructive impact on the area. Three quarters of the state has been declared a “disaster zone,” an area the size of two Canadian provinces put together.

As homes and roads are washed away, many people can't help but wonder what would cause one of the worst natural disasters in the country's history.

Chris Scott, a meteorologist at The Weather Network, says La Niña certainly plays a role.

“With La Niña years, we do tend to see more potential for flooding rains in Indonesia and northern Australia and that's because we have much warmer than normal water in the Pacific Ocean down in those areas,” explains Scott. “And when we talk about La Niña, we're talking about a very large scale weather climate pattern. Almost the size of North America.”

Although the risk is high, Scott adds that La Niña years don't necessarily mean that there will be extreme flooding rains.

“It's kind of like in hockey if you're on the power play. When you're on the power play, you've got a better chance of scoring the goal, but it's not a guarantee.” So while La Niña basically sets the stage for producing an onset of wet weather, a lot more needs to happen for it to transpire.

“And unfortunately we've seen all these things come together, in just the wrong way in places like Queensland, Australia.”

Roads completely washed out in Brisbane
Roads completely washed out in Brisbane

Clean-up efforts across Queensland will be extensive and officials expect damage to be in the billion dollar range. Aerial views of the area show the trail of destruction and the devastation that thousands of residents are facing.

2010 was Australia's third wettest year on record. And flooding rains for the start of 2011 have continued to dramatically affect the region.

Scott says the strength of this La Niña in the Pacific is very comparable to that of three years ago, the Winter of 2007 / 2008.

“But no two years in weather are exactly alike. Weather never repeats itself, but it often rhymes what's happened in the past. And unfortunately La Niña years do tend to produce flooding rains in parts of Indonesia and northern Australia and we've seen that this year with a number of weather systems giving heavy rain to places like Queensland.”

To stay up-to-date on the dramatic flooding situation in Australia, tune into The Weather Network on TV. The newscast comes up at :12 and :42 past every hour. You can also check The Weather Network homepage for frequent updates.

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