Grand Ole Opry flood and other crazy weather: El Niño's fault?
Two major weather phenomena that emerged last year – El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation – put a big kink in the jet stream and caused blizzards, tornadoes, and perhaps even last weekend's torrent in Tennessee, which caused the Grand Ole Opry flood.
The floods that have inundated Nashville, Tenn., nearly sank the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and the Grand Ole Opry, and killed at least 24 people may be part of a greater weather anomaly that has bedeviled parts of the South, Midwest, and Northeast since last fall.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Nashville Flooding
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The culprits? The famous El Niño warm-water effect in the Pacific Ocean sent moisture-soaked air up from the Gulf, even as a powerful phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation put a linebacker block on the atmospheric jet stream off the East Coast, forcing Arctic air deep into the South. Tallahassee, Fla., broke its all-time cold record with 13 days straight of freezing temperatures in early January.
"Here's the story: The El Niño comes across, you get mudslides in California, snow in Dallas, tornadoes in areas you usually don't get them, and then as the low-pressure systems left the coast of the United States, the back side from the oscillation pulled all the cold air down," says Jim O'Brien, an El Niño expert at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "It's the ocean, baby."
Last year's historic Atlanta floods, early snowfall in the South, a triad of blizzards striking Washington, D.C., bone-chilling temperatures that produced snow in Florida and freeze-shocked sea turtles by the hundreds, and deadly spring tornadoes in Mississippi and Alabama all can be attributed to the two phenomena working in tandem.
The two heighten the intensity of otherwise routine events. The Nasvhile area experienced what the US Army Corps of Engineers called a "1,000-year event" this weekend, when it nearly doubled its daily rainfall record, as 13 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Indeed, weather-watchers had warned in March of high probability of flooding this spring.