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 An El Niño weather system forecast to be among the strongest in recent history has been contributing to an array of disasters, from fires to floods, around the world.

The disruptive weather pattern, occurring over many months every few years, involves an unusual warming of water in the Pacific Ocean and often brings a whiplash of moisture to normally dry areas, and drought to wet, temperate areas. Climate change has exacerbated those extremes, experts say.

“We have made it worse” with climate change, said Mark Cane, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University.

South America has been hit especially hard by what Crane calls the “one-two punch of El Niño plus global warming.”

…Bolivia is “facing a severe crisis due to a combination of intense winter heat fueled by the climate crisis and the El Niño,” OCHA said in a memo in October. The drought and excessive heat forced authorities to issue heat advisories and warnings to be conscious of water use.

Then the rainy season came. But the welcome moisture last month hit parched land, which is less equipped to absorb rain, causing flooding that left at least two people dead and displaced hundreds more, OCHA said.

The World Food Program noted that certain demographic groups in Bolivia, such as Indigenous people and women in rural areas, were particularly susceptible to shocks caused by climate change.

Amir Jina, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago who researches the socioeconomic impacts of changes in the environment, said climate change was pushing the bounds of the El Niño across thresholds where areas such as agriculture and food security become negatively impacted.

“The more we shift up this average, the more we’re going to start seeing things like El Niño have much larger negative impacts on society,” he said.

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Areas of Focus: Climate Change
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Climate change is an urgent global challenge. EPIC research is helping to assess its impacts, quantify its costs, and identify an efficient set of policies to reduce emissions and adapt...
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Climate Science
EPIC’s interdisciplinary team of researchers is contributing to a cross-cutting body of knowledge on the scientific causes of climate change and its social consequences.
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