Aerial view of Paysandu harbor as Paraguay is hit by floods on 27 December 2015. El Telegrafo / AFP Photo

By Marlowe Hood
28 December 2015

PARIS (AFP) – Deadly extreme weather on at least five continents is driven in large part by a record-breaking El Niño, but climate change is a likely booster too, experts said Monday.

The 2015-16 El Niño, they added, is the strongest ever measured.

"It is probably the most powerful in the last 100 years," said Jerome Lecou, a climate expert at the French weather service Meteo France, noting that accurate measurements have only existed since the mid-20th century.

Flooding and mudslides unleashed by torrential rains have killed at least 10 people and driven more than 150,000 from their homes in Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay in recent days.

In central and southwestern United States -- where temperatures in Texas are forecast to drop from a balmy 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) Saturday to zero (32 F) on Monday -- clashing weather fronts have given rise to snow-packed blizzards, freezing rain, and a spate of tornadoes that have claimed at least 43 lives.

Across the Pacific, meanwhile, wildfires in Australia fanned by high temperatures and super-dry conditions have engulfed more than 100 homes outside Melbourne, with hundreds more threatened. […]

This year's El Niño is the most powerful ever measured, surpassing the one in 1997-98, both in terms of ocean surface temperature -- up by more than 3C (5.4F) -- and the surface area affected, said Lecou.

As was true in 1998, this year's super El Niño will have contributed to making 2015 the warmest on record, worldwide.

But the reverse may also be true, with climate change boosting the power of cyclical El Niño events.

"If you add the background global warming to natural weather phenomena, there's a tendency to break records left and right," Le Treut told AFP.

"This naturally occurring El Niño and human-induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced," Michel Jarraud, head of the World Meteorological Organisation in Geneva, noted last month. [more]

Record El Nino, climate change drive extreme weather

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