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Climate Change Will Make El Niño/La Niña Impacts Stronger, Study Says

El Niño could bring heavier rains to the Gulf Coast in the years ahead.

Gail Delaughter
Flooding after Hurricane Harvey on I-45, north of downtown Houston.

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The recurring climate patterns known as El Niño or La Niña will lead to stronger storms and wildfires as the planet warms, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

In an El Niño period, Pacific Ocean temperatures are warmer than usual, bringing cooler, wetter weather to Texas. The opposite happens with La Niña, which leads to hotter, drier weather.

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters and led by John Fasullo, says those weather impacts will be amplified by overall global temperature increases. That means more chances for wildfires and, particularly on the Gulf Coast, flooding.

“You could say two degrees Fahrenheit, you get 10 percent increase in the rainfall amounts due to extreme rainfall,” says Fasullo.

The study also suggests that the stronger influence from El Niño/La Niña patterns on storms and fires could lead to more variability in weather as those patterns shift.

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