El Nino Seen Approaching as Models Highlight Warmer Pacific

Bloomberg, 25 Feb 2014

By Phoebe Sedgman

An El Nino weather pattern, which can parch Australia and parts of Asia while bringing rains to South America, may occur in the coming months, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

International climate models surveyed by the bureau show Pacific Ocean temperatures approaching or exceeding El Nino thresholds in the austral winter, the forecaster said today. The El Nino-Southern Oscillation remains neutral at present, it said. Australia’s winter runs from June to August.

El Ninos affect weather worldwide and can roil agricultural markets as farmers contend with drought or too much rain. There’s a 75 percent chance that one will occur in late 2014, according to a report in the journal PNAS this month. An El Nino may exacerbate dry weather in parts of Australia and Asia as Singapore and parts of Malaysia andIndonesia are already experiencing little rain.

Winter crops in Australia will be “greatly affected as it’s pretty much the crucial time through that period where they need rainfall,” said Graydon Chong, an analyst at Rabobank International in Sydney. “That has knock-on effects to other commodities, livestock for example. The availability of feed and availability of pasture as a result of the hotter and drier conditions will play a big part.”

An El Nino toward the end of this year would increase temperatures globally in 2015, and having more time to prepare would help farmers and government agencies, researchers Josef Ludescher and Armin Bunde said in the PNAS report.


About 70 percent of Queensland state is in drought after its driest December since 1938, while New South Wales had the least rain in January since 2003, Bureau of Meteorology data show. Dry conditions will boost beef and veal exports to a record 1.1 million metric tons in the year ending June 30 and cotton production is set to decline, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimates.

Growth in Indonesia’s palm oil output will be limited in the first half by dry weather, Wilmar International Ltd. (WIL) said Feb. 21. Water rationing began in areas surrounding Malaysia’s capital after a prolonged drought, Selangor state chief minister Khalid Ibrahim said. Dry weather may last until middlle to the end of March, the Malaysian Meteorological Department said.

El Nino and La Nina weather patterns have historically been severely disruptive for palm oil production, HSBC Holdings Plc said Jan. 28. El Nino is the most damaging, causing output to drop long after the weather pattern has subsided, it said. Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s largest palm producers.

Food Costs

While the pattern causes dry weather in Asia, an El Nino typically creates ideal growing conditions in the U.S. Midwest during the summer, which is when the weather pattern is expected to occur this year, Art Douglas, meteorologist at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, said Feb. 5.

“As we start to get into the middle of the year, that’s the crucial time and when people start watching indicators” including the Southern Oscillation Index, Rabobank’s Chong said today. “It’s really once we get into middle months that we start looking at the impacts in the third quarter.”

Global food costs tracked by the United Nations dropped in January to the lowest level since June 2012. Palm oil gained 3.1 percent this year, while cotton futures rallied 5.8 percent and the price of Thai 5 percent broken white rice, an Asian benchmark, climbed 2.9 percent.

Warmer Year

“Warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean is likely in the coming months,” the Australian weather bureau said in its fortnightly ENSO update today. “Recent observations add weight to the model outlooks. The tropical Pacific Ocean subsurface has warmed substantially in recent weeks.”

Depending on the size of the El Nino, it may push 2014 and, more likely, 2015 up the rankings of warmest years on record, Gavin Schmidt, deputy director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said last month. The Earth’s warmest years, 2010 and 2005, were associated with the weather pattern.

It’s been almost five years since the last event, which typically occurs every two to seven years, according to Indonesia’s Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency. An El Nino trend is likely to develop this year, Schmidt said.