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Future impacts of El Niño, La Niña likely to intensify, increasing wildfire, drought risk

When an El Niño or its opposite, La Niña, forms in the future, it's likely to cause more intense impacts over many land regions -- amplifying changes to temperature, precipitation and wildfire risk.

These are the findings of a new study" ENSO's Changing Influence on Temperature, Precipitation, and Wildfire In a Warming Climate" funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Energy and published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The researchers found, for example, that the increased wildfire danger in the Southwest United States associated with La Niña events would become more acute.

Conversely, cooler and wetter weather in the same region, when associated with El Niño events, would likely become even cooler and even wetter in the future, enhancing flood risks.

"The cycling between El Niño and La Niña is responsible for some of the weather whiplash we get from year to year, particularly in the Western U.S.," said National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist John Fasullo, who led the study. "What we find when we look at model simulations of the future is that the whiplash is likely to get more severe."