U.S. Issues El Nino Watch That May Affect Atlantic Storms

An El Nino may form in the Pacific Ocean within six months, potentially crimping the number of Atlantic hurricanes while bringing rain to the drought-stricken U.S. South and drier weather in Asia.

An El Nino watch was issued by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland, today because “there is a 50 percent chance” that the central Pacific will warm before the end of the year.

The formation of an El Nino, a warming of the Pacific, can have major impact on U.S. weather and on energy and agriculture markets. The most immediate would be on the Atlantic hurricane season, which can produce threats to orange crops in Florida, the second-largest producer behind Brazil, and to energy production in the Gulf of Mexico.

El Nino may also bring more storminess to the U.S. during the winter and cooler weather in the South, said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

Several preseason hurricane forecasts, including those by Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estimated there would be fewer storms this year than last, based on predictions that an El Nino would form.

El Nino enhances Atlantic Ocean wind shear, which is a change in speed or direction of winds at different levels in the atmosphere. The winds tear at the structure of growing tropical systems, preventing them from organizing or strengthening.

Drier Asia

The area from Northern Australia through Indonesia tends to be drier than normal during El Nino periods, according to the U.S. Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. Less rain also falls during the Indian monsoon, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In the U.S., Southern states get more rain during December to February in El Nino years, according to the marine lab.

Earlier this week, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology also predicted an El Nino would form in the Pacific, citing seven forecast models.

“Ocean temperatures below the surface are currently warmer than average in the central and western Pacific,” the bureau said, adding that the eastern Pacific is slowly warming. “The tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to warm further.”

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