El Nino Data Mimic Record 1997-98 Event as IMF Warns on Food

Updated on
What an El Nino Means for Agriculture in Asia

The El Nino taking hold across the Pacific strengthened, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, citing indexes of sea-surfaces temperatures that showed the same trend for the first time since the event in 1997-1998.

All five NINO indexes, averaged over the past four weeks, exceeded plus 1 degree Celsius, the bureau said in its fortnightly update on Tuesday. That’s the first time this has occurred since the 1997-1998 El Nino, the bureau said.

Australia this month joined the U.S. and Japan in declaring that the first El Nino since 2010 had begun. The 1997-1998 event was the strongest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The weather patterns can bake parts of Asia, hurting crops from rice to palm oil, while crimping the hurricane season in the Atlantic and bringing more rain across the southern U.S.

“The area of warm anomalies in the tropical Pacific now more resembles a classical El Nino pattern,” the bureau said. “Sea-surface temperatures will remain well above El Nino thresholds at least into the southern hemisphere spring.”

The Australian bureau warned earlier this month the latest event will probably be substantial. The patterns are powered by a warming of the tropical Pacific, and sea-surface and sub-surface temperatures are among the data tracked by forecasters along with air pressure, winds and cloudiness.

Food Prices

The El Nino may spur a rapid rise in Philippine food prices, Chikahisa Sumi, head of the International Monetary Fund’s mission to the Philippines, said in a statement released in Manila on Tuesday. The government must quickly address food-supply disruptions by increasing imports, Sumi said.

“If the El Nino intensity is anything like 1997-98, the plantation and related agro-industries should brace for the worse,” Franki Anthony Dass, executive vice president of plantations at Sime Darby Bhd., said in a text message on Tuesday. “Prolonged droughts will have a severe impact on the growth and production in the months ahead.”

Palm oil production in Indonesia dropped 7.1 percent in 1997-1998, while it slid 5.5 percent in Malaysia, U.S. Agriculture Department data show. The two countries account for 86 percent of world supplies.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE