Two remote corners of the world, known for their temperate climates, are being hit by deadly catastrophes.
Wildfires have killed more than 120 people in Chile's forested slopes, and record rains have overflowed rivers and caused landslides in Southern California.
Behind these risks are two powerful forces:
He climate changewhich can intensify both rain and drought, and the natural weather phenomenon known as The boywhich can also overstate extreme weather.
In California, meteorologists had been warning for days that an unusually strong storm, known as atmospheric river, was gaining strength due to the extraordinarily high temperatures of the Pacific Ocean.
The aftermath of the fire in the hills of Viña del Mar, Chile, on Saturday. Photo Javier Torres/Agence France-Presse
The rains began over the weekend and several counties declared a state of emergency.
On Monday, authorities warned that the Los Angeles area could be flooded in a single day by the equivalent of a year of rainfall.
In the southern hemisphere, Chile has almost a decade of drought.
This set the stage for a hellish weekend, in which, in the midst of a strong heat wave, forest fires broke out.
Since then, the President has declared two days of national mourning and has warned that the death toll from the devastating flames could “increase significantly.”
Both floods and fires reflect the extreme weather risks caused by a dangerous cocktail of global warming, caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, and this year's El Niño, a cyclical weather phenomenon characterized by a overheating of the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
The catastrophes in Chile and California occur after the hottest year on land and in the oceans.
They announce what will almost certainly be one of the five hottest years ever recordedaccording to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“These synchronized fires and floods in Chile and California are certainly a reminder of extreme weather events and their repercussions on otherwise benign Mediterranean climates,” John Abatzoglou, a climate scientist at the University of California, Merced, said in an email. .
Climate variables, along with the effects of El Niño, “are the main instruments in the orchestra of individual extreme events,” he said, “with the drum of climate change beating louder and louder as the years go by.”
In the case of California, extraordinarily high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean have superseded atmospheric river storms that began Saturday and are expected to continue for at least another day.
Some areas of the Santa Monica Mountains recorded more than 7 inches of rain over the weekend, causing landslides in some of the richer neighborhoods of the Angels.
Up to 14 inches of rain could have fallen on Monday in parts of the region, which would be close to the annual rainfall average.
City and state officials urged people to stay off the roads.
The two catastrophes highlight what some experts call an underestimated danger of climate change.
Although much money and attention has been devoted to drought preparedness in California, the chances of back-to-back strong storms are also increasing in a warming climate.
“We're not really prepared,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a video he posted online Monday morning.
“We have neglected to seriously consider the large plausible increases in flood risk in an increasingly warm climate,” he said.
Brett F. Sanders, an engineering professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in flood management, said atmospheric river events like the one now hitting the state have been predicted by climate models and pose new challenges to planners. urban.
“The mentality of the past was that we could control floods and contain where they occurred.
Outside of that, communities, businesses and residents could go about their business without thinking about flooding,” explains Sanders.
“But now we know that, throughout the United States, infrastructure is insufficient to contain today's extreme weather conditions.
Chile has been subjected to extreme weather conditions due to a relentless drought for much of the last decade, which has dried out forests and depleted water reserves.
A strong heat wave occurred over the weekend that also left the traces of an El Niño period.
During an El Niño, warmer than usual ocean temperatures in some areas of the Pacific can affect global weather patterns, increasing rainfall in some places and worsening drought in others.
It didn't help that, in the heat and drought affected regions of Chile, there were large plantations of monocultures of highly flammable trees near cities and towns.
When a fire broke out, strong, hot winds spread the flames quickly.
An aerial video showed burned out cars and houses in one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country, in the region of Valparaiso.
Chile is no stranger to fires during the hot summer months.
It is estimated that in the last decade they have burned 1.7 million hectarestriple that of the previous decade.
According to a recent study published in the journal Naturethe “concurrence of El Niño and climate-induced droughts and heat waves increase local fire risk and have contributed decisively to the intense fire activity recently observed in central Chile.”
This year the government increased funds for fighting fires.
It was insufficient to prevent the country's worst fires in a decade.
Sarah Feron, one of the study's authors, sees it as a sign of things to come.
“In some regions of the world we face climate-fueled catastrophes that we are not prepared for and to which we will probably not be able to fully adapt,” he said.
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