By Kylie Cheng

Here in California, we joke about welcoming severe rainstorms with open reservoirs.  This year, though, the predicted most powerful El Niño on record has started changing annual weather patterns and increasing the destructive forces of weather-related disasters.  Floods and droughts alike can wreck havoc on countries and on lives.

In a normal year, trade winds push warm ocean surface water toward the west, allowing cool water to rise in the Pacific Ocean.  In an El Niño year, the winds push more weakly, so the mass of warm water settles around the west of Peru.  Because of that shift, El Niño impacts weather all over the globe.  This year, the effects are even more powerful due to rising ocean temperatures.  According to the LA Times, this year’s El Niño will be stronger than the one of the previous record-setting year of 1997.

The typical monsoons in India have contributed to floods throughout the country.  Heavy rain from tropical lows has caused devastating floods and landslides.  As the levels in dams rise and piping breaks down, water fills even the streets.  The Times of India states that strong currents lead to drownings even with low water inflow.  Flooding in Chennai, capital of the Tamil Nadu state in southeastern India, was exacerbated by poor infrastructure unprepared to handle the rain.  Residents remain marooned.

Flooding in Brazil, although incited by dam-building mistakes rather than rain, also spells disaster.  The collapse of two mining dams released waste-contaminated water from Minas Gerais, which has killed wildlife and could irreversibly damage the ecosystem as it further pollutes the Rio Doce, according to Reuters.  In the short term, Brazil’s current drought, brought by El Niño conditions, coupled with its now tainted water supply spells a lack of clean drinking water.

These examples may have made the news awhile back, but the effects of weather tragedies persist long after they hit the headlines.  Climatologists cannot predict exactly what El Niño will bring, and it should not take the blame for every storm that hits California.  When we joke about it, we demonstrate our lack of understanding of how other parts of the world suffer from bad weather outside of our sights.  We must drop our quips and become aware of the reality, not just for our own safety, but also for the sake of others.

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