Warmer weather and drier conditions. Many places in North America have felt the effects of an El Niño winter this year, and while a mild winter may be pleasant, it also comes with the risk of increased flooding.
According to NASA’s sea level change science team, the emergence of a robust El Niño this winter may lead to the occurrence of increased high-tide flooding along the coasts of the Americas. Such flooding has the capacity to inundate roads and infiltrate low-lying structures.
In this article, we discuss the impact of an El Niño winter and how to prepare your business or residential property for floods, including the highest quality in flood protection products.
What is an El Niño?
El Niño, a cyclical climate phenomenon marked by elevated sea levels and warmer-than-average ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, can extend poleward along the western coasts of the Americas. El Niño may bring heightened rainfall to the U.S. Southwest and induce drought conditions in western Pacific nations like Indonesia, with these effects typically manifesting from January to March.
El Niño represents the warm phase within the broader El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, while La Niña signifies its cool phase, characterized by the anomalous cooling of surface waters in the region. Both El Niño and La Niña constitute the oceanic component of ENSO, with the Southern Oscillation accounting for the atmospheric alterations associated with this phenomenon.
The impacts of El Niño extend to:
- Ocean temperatures
- The speed and strength of ocean currents
- The well-being of coastal fisheries
- Local weather patterns spanning from Australia to South America and beyond
El Niño occurrences are sporadic, manifesting at irregular intervals ranging from two to seven years. Unlike regular and predictable cycles such as ocean tides, El Niño does not follow a consistent pattern and lacks predictability.
How Does an El Niño Winter Increase the Risk of Flooding?
As water warms, its volume expands, resulting in higher sea levels in warmer regions. Researchers and forecasters carefully monitor both ocean temperatures and water levels to detect the emergence and progression of El Niño events.
The analysis from NASA suggests that a robust El Niño could lead to as many as five instances of a specific flooding type known as a 10-year flood event in cities such as Seattle and San Diego during this winter. Notably, such flooding is not customary along the west coast of the Americas unless an El Niño is present.
The researchers underscore that by the 2030s, the combination of rising sea levels and climate change could result in these cities encountering a comparable frequency of 10-year floods annually, even in the absence of El Niño conditions.
Phil Thompson, a member of NASA’s sea level change science team, is surprised that the analysis found these 10-year events becoming commonplace so quickly - “I would have thought maybe by the 2040s or 2050s,” he states.
Climate Change Leading to Increased Flood Events
The rise in sea levels is a consequence of global warming, with Earth's atmosphere and oceans experiencing warming trends, leading to the melting of ice sheets and shelves. This has already led to an increase in the frequency of high-tide or nuisance flooding in coastal cities throughout the year. Events like El Niños and storm surges, which temporarily elevate sea levels, exacerbate these impacts. Climate change is not a problem for the future - it is here.
Ongoing missions, such as the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite and Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, play a crucial role in monitoring El Niño in the short term. SWOT, in particular, gathers data on sea levels right up to the coast, contributing to improved projections of sea level rise. This information could prove invaluable for policymakers and planners in preparing communities for the rising seas anticipated in the coming decades.
"As climate change accelerates, some cities will experience flooding five to ten times more frequently. SWOT will vigilantly observe these changes to ensure that coastal communities are well-prepared," emphasized Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, SWOT program scientist and director of the ocean physics program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Staying Prepared With Quality Flood Protection Products
It’s important to note that flood protection products must be approved by FEMA and floodproofing methods should only be carried out by an expert who has experience in completing flood protection projects.
Investing in quality flood protection products can reduce the risk of a flood event that leads to potentially devastating consequences. One of the most robust and effective flood protection products is professional flood panels that are customized to each property.
When combined with flood mitigation strategies and flood protection products, the impact and damage from flood events can be greatly reduced. For more information, contact us at Flood Risk America. Our experts have the technology and knowledge to help you effectively create or navigate your flood prevention plan.