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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.

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The deluge caused the Cumberland River to crest, sending sewage-ridden water bursting into the Music City's neon-lit tourist district. The Predators hockey team's locker rooms were washed out, and a fallen Elvis wax statue lay near the Opryland Hotel, where an immense indoor park was under water, with tables and chairs floating around, according to the Associated Press. The storm claimed victims, young and old, who did not escape the water in time.

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Climate interpreters, however, aren't so ready to link the Tennessee floods to the El Niño-oscillation confluence.

"The general conditions in the Ohio Valley have been dry, and that dryness is consistent with what we typically see during El Niño years," says Martin Hoerling, a climate specialist at the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. "So you might say this is inconsistent with what El Niño might otherwise do. There are many things that can cause extreme events, but there's not always a single cause."

Now for the capper: How does global warming – or cooling for that matter – play into this crazy weather year?

"[The] globe is warming. But the real story behind the mid-Atlantic’s winter isn’t about climate change, it’s about climate variability," reads a recent NOAA report. "Climate variability … explains why record-breaking snowstorms and global warming can coexist. In fact, many of the weather events observed this winter help to confirm our understanding of the climate system, including links between weather and climate."

Thankfully for many Americans (as well as winter-weary Europeans), that variability is likely to calm down. El Niño is expiring and will be done by June. Its partner, the North Atlantic Oscillation, has mostly spun itself out, as well.


IN PICTURES: Nashville Flooding