El Nino Seen Looming by Australia as Pacific Ocean Heats Up

El Nino-like weather may persist in coming months as the Pacific Ocean continues to warm and indicators approach thresholds for the event that brings drought to Asia and heavier-than-usual rains to South America.

Sea-surface temperatures have exceeded the thresholds for a number of weeks and the Southern Oscillation Index has generally been negative for the past few months, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said today. While trade winds have been near-average along the equator, they have been weaker in the broader tropical belt, it said. A sustained weakening of trade winds is needed for the phenomenon to develop, the bureau says.

El Ninos, caused by periodic warmings of the Pacific, can roil world agricultural markets as farmers contend with drought in Asia or too much rain in South America. Palm oil, cocoa, coffee and sugar are among crops most at risk, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says. Forecasters, including Australian scientists, raised the possibility of an El Nino earlier this year before tempering their outlook as conditions didn’t develop.

“The tropical Pacific Ocean continues to border on El Nino thresholds, with rainfall patterns around the Pacific Ocean basin and at times further afield displaying El Nino-like patterns over recent months,” the bureau said. “If current conditions do persist, or strengthen into next year, 2014–2015 is likely to be considered a weak El Nino.”

El Nino conditions appear to have formed and will probably continue, the Japan Meteorological Agency said on Dec. 10. The surface temperature of the Pacific was higher than normal in almost all areas in November, it said.

The Australian bureau maintained an alert and there’s at least a 70 percent chance the atmosphere will start to reinforce the ocean in the coming months. An El Nino event developing at this time of year would be unusual, it said. The last El Nino was from 2009 to 2010, and the Pacific has either been in its cooler state, called La Nina, or neutral since then.

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