• Sea temperatures may top values seen in record 1997-98 event
  • El Nino to rapidly weaken heading into 2016 Australian autumn

El Nino will peak around the end of the year as warming sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean may exceed those seen during the record event almost two decades ago.

Recent oceanic and atmospheric indicators are at levels not seen since the 1997-98 El Nino, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said in a fortnightly update on its website. Sea surface temperatures in the central tropical Pacific are set to rise further in coming months and come close to, or possibly exceed, monthly values observed during 1997-98, it said.

U.S. forecasters have predicted the El Nino may become one of the strongest ever recorded and this month increased the odds it will last through the Northern Hemisphere winter. El Ninos can affect weather worldwide by baking Asia, altering rainfall across South America and bringing cooler summers to North America. The event has already caused crop losses in Central America and prompted Freeport-McMoRan Inc. to cut the copper sales target from its Indonesian operations as dry weather hampers milling.

“All models suggest the event will peak around the end of the year, followed by rapid weakening heading into autumn 2016,” the Australia weather bureau said, referring to the season that starts in March. “It is too early to accurately determine the likely pattern beyond autumn, but a continued El Nino is considered the least likely outcome at this stage.”

The El Nino of 1997-98 was the strongest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There’s a 95 percent chance El Nino will continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter, up from a previous forecast of 90 percent, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Sept. 10.

While El Nino is typically associated with below-average winter and spring rain in eastern Australia, it has been offset in some areas by record warmth in the Indian Ocean, the weather bureau said. Australia this month raised its forecast for wheat production citing rain in key western growing regions in winter.

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