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Why is it so hot and dry in January?

ALBANY -- Is it global warming? Have the greenhouse gases clogged the gulf stream? Residents of Georgia and the southeast are wondering what's going on with winter -- or the lack of one this year.

It's January and the sweater hasn't left the hanger many times, not including this current weekend cold spell.

Those are the types of questions Nyasha Dunkley, deputy Georgia state climatolgist with the Environmental Protection Division, hears almost every day, she says.

"People call up wondering where the winter went," Dunkley said. "They want some rain and a lot of them are ready for the cold weather. They're blaming almost everything from global warming to Barack Obama and George Bush."

While nothing is ever simple in tracking climate or predicting the weather, Dunkley said the basic problem lies in a global climate system called La Nina, Spanish for "The Girl."

La Nina is the warming, by several degrees, of the surface of the central Pacific ocean, according to Dunkley, which is depriving the southern states from moisture and keeping them so warm.

The system, and her opposing brother "El Nino," are two of the most important forces affecting the climate. While La Nina conditions typically occur once every three or four years, alternating with El Nino, the earth is currently experiencing the second year of La Nina and what many believe are a 100-year drought in some southern states.

"I've seen a number of droughts in my time," said Mark Masters, director of projects, Flint River Planning and Policy Center, "but I've never seen anything like this. Its our second La Nina in a row and I don't want to see a third."

In most cases, La Nina will mean drier conditions for the south, but Dunkley says there's a wild card in the mix -- a lesser known and less predictable Arctic Oscillation capable of producing dramatic short-term swings in temperature.

According to Dunkley, Arctic Oscillation is always present, fluctuating between positive and negative phases. A negative phase will push cold air into the U.S. from Canada. Most oscillations this year have been positive, Dunkley said, or haven't reached far enough to cool south Georgia.

"We had a little cold weather just recently," Dunkley said. "It could still come back."

Dunkley said that Arctic Oscillations typically last for "several weeks" but are difficult to predict for more a week or two in advance.

When asked about "global warming," a growing concern of many, Dunkley urged against "jumping to conclusions," saying the weather patterns witnessed over the last several years are easily explainable by known climatalogical techniques. She doesn't, however discount the warming concept.

"I think there is a lot of paperwork and data that may support global warming," she said, "and there are new methods for gathering information every day. We don't have the whole story yet."