Global flooding and La Niña

Flooded road in Queensland, Australia

14 January 2011 - In some parts of the world severe flooding is occurring, as very heavy rain and landslides affect regions of Australia, Brazil and much of Sri Lanka.

Some speculation has surrounded the meteorological reasons for the severe weather, these include a near record La Niña event with colder than normal ocean waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

For the Australian state of Queensland, there is strong evidence to suggest that La Niña is the main reason for the ongoing widespread flooding. The current floods are also the worst since 1974 - which coincided with the strongest La Niña on record.

Further afield, the links with rainfall patterns and La Niña become more uncertain. In Sri Lanka, historical records show that there is no clear link between La Niña and heavy rain. However, the current La Niña extends further west than usual and this is associated with a westward shift in rainfall patterns in the region. Sri Lanka is on the very western edge of this rain.

Meanwhile, the flooding and landslides in southern parts of Brazil are thought not to be directly associated with La Niña. These extreme conditions can be put down to the variable nature of our global weather patterns.

Map showing possible links between La Nina and local weather

Dr. Adam Scaife, Senior Climate Scientist at the Met Office, explains some of the science behind La Niña and its impacts on the current severe weather around the globe.

Interview with Dr. Adam Scaife (Youtube video)

La Niña and severe weather around the world La Niña and severe weather around the world (PDF, 89 kB)

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Last updated: 11 February 2016

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