Blame climate change, El Niño, and a dose of bad luck.

by Zoya Teirstein, Grist

It has been a chaotic start to the Northern Hemisphere’s “danger season,” those few months of the year that are accompanied by a parade of disasters. This year’s danger season already includes abnormally high sea-surface temperatures in the world’s oceans, catastrophic wildfires in Canada, and unusual flooding in California.

Experts say recent extremes are being influenced by a hodgepodge of distinct factors. Climate change is involved, but natural variations in global weather, and an unfortunate dose of serendipity, are also at play.

Los Angeles Fire Near the City

“Global warming itself hasn’t suddenly accelerated this year,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a live briefing on Monday. “Part of what’s going on is random bad luck.”

Last week, the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration announced that El Niño conditions — above average sea-surface temperatures that spur higher-than-usual warmth in many parts of the world — were officially present in the Pacific Ocean. The swing from La Niña, El Niño’s opposite extreme, to an El Niño means a much warmer year is in store for the entire globe. But the cycle, which is associated with extremes such as drought and severe storms, also has localized impacts. In eastern and southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and parts of the Asia-Pacific region, El Niño can spur famine, outbreaks of infectious disease, and heat stress. The natural weather phenomenon may also be having an impact, Swain said, on record-breaking land surface temperatures in Canada that have helped to fuel its devastating fire season so far.

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