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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.

People look at the floodwaters on the grounds of the Grand Ole Opry House on Monday, in Nashville, Tenn., after heavy weekend rains and flooding.

Mark Humphrey/AP

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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.

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."


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