Fierce storms have pummeled California for weeks, but scientists warn that the worst may not be over yet.
California winters are famed for dramatic ocean swells, but thanks to the combined effects of El Niño and the effects of Earth’s rising temperature, the waves crashing into the coast could prove catastrophic.
In late December 2023, weather forecasters predicted that waves would reach up to 20 feet high — as tall as some two-story buildings — in Ventura, California.
Ventura’s fire service rescued eight people from the waterlogged San Pedro Street and Seaward Avenue, some of whom were admitted to the hospital, and two surfers, the Ventura County Star reported.
Multiple agencies also searched for a fisherman who fell overboard from a boat — miraculously, he later walked out of the water, as the Star reported.
The weather’s severity has been attributed in large part to El Niño, a recurring climate pattern that scientists say was due this year.
El Niño occurs when surface waters are warmer than average in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, triggering higher sea levels, storms, and high-tide flooding in California. Rogue waves may also intensify during El Niño, compounding floods.
“If there are large waves those days, we may see more flooding,” Laura Engeman, a coastal resilience specialist with California Sea Grant, told USA Today.
Why do the effects of El Niño matter?
Soaring global temperatures are already affecting sea levels, but El Niño could push waters even higher.
Some scientists have suggested that rising global temperatures and changing weather patterns may be increasing instances of extreme El Niño events, worsening storms, droughts, and hurricanes in places.
What’s being done about El Niño?
El Niño, as a naturally recurring weather event, cannot be forestalled, but the State of California is taking several precautions against flooding.
Other potential shorter-term solutions include trucking in the sand and building barrier islands off the coast, which could reduce the force of incoming waves while also providing habitats for local wildlife.
Join our free newsletter for cool news and cool tips that make it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.