Small changes in local climate can at times have a massive impact on worldwide weather patterns. For example, El Niño, a term used to refer to warm pools of water appearing in the Pacific Ocean, has been correlated with influencing weather on the other side of the planet. El Niño specifically interacts with cold spots in the ocean, called La Niña, and that interplay can directly influence rainfall patterns across the globe.
Scientists have known for some time that weather catalysts like El Niño have been strengthened and influenced by increased greenhouse gas emissions, but a a new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters has taken that research a step further, directly correlating the impact strengthening El Niño through these emissions has on individual events like floods and droughts.
According to Dr. Wang and his research team, the paper's authors, as El Niño becomes stronger, the rainfall patterns it creates also become more potent. His team specifically looked at May 2015's series of floods in Texas and Oklahoma and how they correlated with temperature oscillations in the Pacific Ocean. To do this, they analyzed a broad set of meteorological data, comparing weather patterns from the years 1948 to 1980 with similar patterns and influences from 1980 to the present day.
According to the paper, "the record precipitation that occurred over Texas and Oklahoma during the month of May 2015 was the results of a series of climate interactions and anomalies. Foremost is the role that El Niño played. A developing ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation) has a tendency to increase spring precipitation over the southern Great Plains and this effect was found to have intensified since 1980; this intensification was concomitant with a warmer atmosphere due to anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gases."
It concluded that the intensified ENSO teleconnection that led to the flooding was itself caused by an increase latent heat around the equator line in the Pacific Ocean. This increase in latent heat was in turn associated with a global trend of tropical sea temperatures rising. Which in turn, has been, you guessed it, caused by general trends in global temperature correlated with greenhouse gas emissions.
May's floods made the month the wettest month in recorded history for both states. It's worth noting that these trends can be used to predict floods in advance, and that May's events were predicted as early as March of this year. However, it's also worth noting that even with this foresight, the increased intensity of El Niño has also led to an increased likelihood of devastating floods like this taking place. Having a flood insurance policy, which can be obtained through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and some specialty, private programs, can help property owners avoid potentially crippling financial outcomes at the same time that they are dealing with stressful events like this flooding.
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