El Nino Seen Nearing as Australia Issues Alert on Warm Ocean

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An El Nino may develop by June, according to Australia’s state forecaster, which upgraded its outlook for the weather-altering pattern to Alert.

Ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean continue to be warmer-than-average, trade winds remain weaker-than-average and all models suggest further ocean warming will occur, the Bureau of Meteorology said Tuesday. The bureau raised its outlook from Watch, with the new level indicating at least a 70 percent chance of an El Nino this year, it said.

Australia had raised the possibility of an El Nino for most of 2014 before tempering forecasts as changes to the atmosphere failed to develop consistently. The bureau revived its outlook for an event when it issued a Watch last month. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center has said that a weak El Nino developed in February and last week predicted a 70 percent chance the pattern will continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer.

“Tropical Pacific Ocean sea-surface temperatures are now just shy of El Nino levels,” the Australian bureau said on its website. “Large areas of warmer-than-average water below the surface are likely to keep these waters warm for some time. This increases the odds of atmospheric factors coming into play, and hence further warming of the tropical Pacific.”

El Ninos, caused by periodic warmings of the equatorial Pacific, can roil world agricultural markets as farmers contend with drought or too much rain. All climate models monitored by the bureau indicate that El Nino thresholds will be reached or exceeded by June, it said.

Hurricanes, Drought

El Nino can crimp the Atlantic hurricane season, bring more rain across the southern U.S. during the winter and warm some northern states. The pattern also brings drought to parts of Asia and drier winter and spring conditions to Australia’s east.

The effects of the pattern can be felt even without an official declaration. Morgan Stanley said in December that weather in South America for much of the previous month had been typical of an El Nino, citing above-normal rain in Argentina and southern Brazil and dry conditions in northeast Brazil. Palm oil, cocoa, coffee and sugar are the crops that can be most at risk, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said last year.

El Nino conditions will continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer and there’s a greater than 60 percent chance it will last through autumn, the Malaysian Meteorological Department said last week. Forecasters in the Philippines said last month the country is experiencing a mild event, while Peru sees greater chances of a weak-to-moderate El Nino.

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