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Climate change will trigger more extreme El Nino weather events


Despite their simple names, these weather systems can cause a whole lot of trouble.

Climate change will cause El Niños to be stronger, a new study suggests.

El Niños, which occur every few years, are a natural warming of sea water in the tropical Pacific Ocean that fuel weather extremes in the U.S. and around the world. 

Looking back at dozens of El Niños in the past century, scientists found that they have been forming farther to the west since the 1970s. Water is naturally warmer in the western Pacific Ocean, which translates to stronger El Niños. 

And in the future, continued warming over the western Pacific due to climate change promises conditions that will trigger more extreme El Niño events in the future, according to study lead author Bin Wang, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Hawaii.

This is important because past El Niños — especially strong ones — have wreaked weather havoc around the world. 

For example, globally, the 1997-98 El Niño caused thousands of deaths from severe storms, heat waves, floods and drought, costing between $32 billion and $96 billion, according to a United Nations study.

More on this topic: What is an El Niño, and what effects will this climate pattern have on spring weather?

In the U.S., strong El Niños can cause extreme flooding in California.

“More frequent extreme El Niño events will induce profound socioeconomic consequences,” warned Wang in a statement.

Wang also said there have been three “super” El Niños, starting in 1982, 1997 and 2015, and they all began in the western Pacific. During each of those El Niños, the world also broke new average temperature records.

The study adds to growing evidence that “El Nino events are becoming stronger under continued climate change,” said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb, who wasn’t part of the research.

The study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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