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NASA Warns of Impending Flood Risks: Strong El Niño Could Trigger Repeated Inundation Along Western Coasts

A NASA analysis has sounded the alarm about the potential threat of increased flooding in cities along the western coasts of the Americas this winter due to a powerful El Niño. The warming of surface temperatures in the Central to East Pacific Ocean could lead to a series of significant floods, with up to five “10-year flood events” expected to impact cities like Seattle and San Diego. This article explores the implications of the NASA analysis, highlighting the risks posed by a potent El Niño and the broader concerns related to climate change and rising sea levels.

El Niño’s Influence & Flood Risk Assessment

El Niño, a natural phenomenon occurring every two to seven years, involves a shift in sea surface temperatures that alters equatorial trade winds. This change weakens or reverses the winds, causing warm water to flow eastward. The ongoing El Niño event, initiated in June 2023 and anticipated to last until at least April 2024, is predicted to be one of the strongest, with a 55% chance of it being deemed “strong” and a 35% chance of it being “historically strong” during the November-to-January season.

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The NASA analysis suggests that this year’s El Niño could lead to the occurrence of up to five “10-year flood events,” which have a 1-in-10 chance of happening in any given year. These floods, categorized as moderate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could partially inundate exposed roads and buildings, prompting limited evacuations. The heightened risk is particularly significant for cities along the western coasts, including Seattle and San Diego.

Researchers express surprise at the rapid potential transformation of these 10-year flood events into commonplace occurrences. Phil Thompson, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, emphasizes the urgency of the situation. Additionally, the study underscores that, by the 2030s, climate change and rising sea levels could independently lead to similar floods annually along the West Coast, even without the influence of El Niño.

Global Impact of El Niño

El Niño events, lasting from nine months to two years, have global repercussions. The ongoing El Niño, coupled with climate change, contributed to 2023 becoming the hottest year on record, resulting in widespread droughts across East Africa, Indonesia, Australia, and the Americas. With the most potent effects anticipated between January and March, the full impact of this El Niño event is yet to unfold.

NASA’s use of technology, such as the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) and Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellites, enables the monitoring of sea surface temperatures. This information aids planners in preparing for ocean defenses and evacuation plans, offering a proactive approach to mitigating the effects of rising sea levels exacerbated by climate change.

As the threat of increased flooding looms over cities along the western coasts, the NASA analysis serves as a crucial warning. The convergence of a potent El Niño and broader climate change impacts necessitates proactive measures to address the vulnerabilities of coastal regions. By leveraging advanced satellite technology, ongoing monitoring efforts can play a pivotal role in developing resilient strategies to safeguard communities against the escalating risks of inundation.

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