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Powerful El Nino could bring extra floods this winter

NASA’s Sea Level Change Science Team has found that if a strong El Niño develops this winter, it could lead to tidal flooding

By Ground Report
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Powerful El Nino could bring extra floods this winter

NASA’s Sea Level Change Science Team has found that if a strong El Niño develops this winter, it could lead to tidal flooding in many countries, particularly in cities along the U.S. West Coast. This could result in roads becoming swamps and low-lying areas being submerged.

El Niño May Cause More Winter Floods

El Niño is a climate event that happens every few years when the waters in the eastern Pacific are warmer than usual. This year’s developing El Niño could bring above-average rainfall to the U.S. southwest and drought to western Pacific countries like Indonesia, typically between January and March.

A potent El Niño could increase flooding events this winter. Places like La Libertad and Baltra in Ecuador are predicted to experience up to three 10-year flooding events. Such flooding is not common on the U.S. West Coast outside of El Niño years.

SWOT satellite detects El Niño development, showing sea level anomalies off Ecuador-Peru. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By the 2030s, these cities could experience the same number of annual floods due to rising sea levels and climate change, even without El Niño. “I’m a little surprised that these 10-year events could become so common so quickly,” said Phil Thompson, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii and member of NASA’s sea level change science team.

Ten-year floods have a one in 10 chance of happening in any given year. They indicate how high local sea levels rise. The extent of flooding in a specific city or community depends on various factors, including the area’s topography and the location of homes and infrastructure relative to the sea. Flooding can engulf roads and homes, necessitating evacuation or moving people to higher ground.

Increased coastal flooding risk by 2050s

NASA’s coastal flooding analysis indicates that by the 2030s, U.S. West Coast cities could see up to one in 10 of these 10-year flooding events during strong El Niño years. By the 2050s, a powerful El Niño could cause more than 40 of these events in any given year.

Sea levels rise in places with warm water because water expands when heated. Researchers and forecasters monitor ocean temperatures and water levels to detect the formation and development of El Niño.

Climate change is already changing the baseline sea level along coastlines worldwide, said Ben Hamlington, a sea level researcher and head of the sea level change science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Global warming is causing sea levels to rise as the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans warm and ice sheets and shelves melt. This has already increased the number of days of high tide and flooding in coastal cities throughout the year. Events such as El Niño and hurricanes, which temporarily raise sea levels, exacerbate these effects.

As climate change accelerates, some cities will flood five to 10 times more often, said Nadya Vinogradova Schiffer, director of surface water and ocean topography (SWOT) program scientist and ocean physics. SWOT will monitor these changes to ensure that coastal communities are not endangered.

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