What does La Niña mean? Higher risk of spring tornadoes, hail and storms in Mississippi

Mississippi is experiencing a La Niña weather pattern for the third straight spring and while that typically means a warmer season than average, it could produce more severe weather than usual.

"We've been in a La Niña pattern since fall and wintertime," said Chad Entremont, science and operations officer with the National Weather Service in Jackson. "We're still in a La Niña pattern. It just gives a more favorable weather pattern to get more severe weather episodes over a longer period of time like December through April."

According to NWS, La Niña weather patterns occur when temperatures are below normal in central and eastern areas of the Pacific Ocean. The colder waters push the jet stream northward creating a warmer, drier winter in the South.

While warmer and drier may sound good, they can come with a price. Mississippi experienced a La Niña weather pattern in 2022. According to the NWS, there were 184 tornadoes, 108 hail reports and 551 reports of damaging winds for the year.

Late March and early April were particularly active for severe weather. Over a 2-week span, severe storms produced a total of 48 tornadoes in the state.

More:Here's the history of Mississippi tornadoes since 1950

Typical effects of La Niña in Mississippi

  • Less precipitation than average

  • Warmer temperatures than average

  • Increased risk of damaging winds

  • Increased risk of tornadoes

  • Increased risk of EF2 tornadoes and stronger

  • Increased risk of hail

More:Step aboard and back in time on Christopher Columbus' ship Pinta in Mississippi

Greater severe weather threat now through April

Entremont said Mississippi has seen higher than average amounts of rainfall this year, but the overall pattern for a La Niña spring in Mississippi is typically drier. For flood-prone cities such as Jackson, that sounds good as it reduces the chance of the Pearl River coming out of its banks.

However, this doesn't apply to all rivers in the state. During La Niña periods, the South may be drier, states to the north typically have wetter than average seasons. That can result in increased snowmelt in spring along with higher than average.

So, the Mississippi River can have a greater chance of flooding than average in spring.

"In terms of severe weather, look for that more active pattern from now through April," Entremont said. "The chances for tornadoes, hail and wind, they're just higher when we're in this La Niña pattern."

Contact Brian Broom at bbroom@gannett.com or 601-961-7225.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi at greater risk of severe weather this spring