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La Nina Still Has A Fast Ball

Another powerful winter storm was pounding the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday night, with heavy snow closing mountain passes in Washington state and power outages leaving thousands out in the Oregon cold. It's all courtesy of La Niña, CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports.

It was virtually an overnight sea change, with the cold blue water of La Nina that replaced last year's El Nino. Water levels fell two feet. And while the latest NASA animation shows it's starting to get smaller, oceanographer Tony Busalacchi says La Niña's influence will be felt through this spring.

"There's a tendency again for more enhanced precipitation in the Northwest and possibly warmer, drier conditions in the Southern tier of states," Busalacchi said.

La Niña will likely produce colder and drier conditions across the upper Midwest, and wetter weather in New England.

And then there's the hurricane season. La Niña could stir that up again.

"If these cool conditions continue, and we clearly expect them to continue through springtime, we would expect a normal, or maybe slightly enhanced hurricane season, somewhat comparable to the one we saw last year," said Busalacchi.

Last year's string of hurricanes, especially Mitch, was a killer series of storms. And scientists say last month's record 163 tornadoes in the Southeast- three times the old record number - was also enhanced by La Niña.

In Southern California, where the La Niña signature is dry weather, it is hard to believe that one year ago, El Niño storms were wreaking havoc over the area. And the final numbers from the El Niño of 1997-98, make it the climate event of the century.

"Preliminary estimates of the effects of the last El Niño are $33 billion in damages worldwide and about 23,000 lives lost," said Michael McPhaden of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Most of those lives were lost in Africa in developing countries. Most of the damages, in terms of dollars, were in the developed countries, like the United States."

And it could have been worse if not for the advanced technology and forecasting that sounded an early warning. Now the question is if the more frequent El Niño-La Niña cycle is a warning of something even bigger - global climate change.

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