Looming El Nino Seen Spurring Droughts to Smelly Reefs in Asia

The chance of below-average rainfall and droughts occurring in parts of Asia is increasing amid forecasts for an El Nino weather pattern to develop as soon as July, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

About two out of three El Nino events bring drought to the region, David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the bureau, said on Bloomberg Television today. The weather pattern, which can also parch parts of Australia, brings floods to South America, he said.

El Ninos can roil agricultural markets as farmers worldwide contend with drought or too much rain. Confirmation of the weather event developing could trigger support for cocoa, coffee and sugar prices, while also boosting production of corn and soybeans, ABN Amro Group NV said yesterday. The World Meteorological Organization warned last month of a dramatic rise in world temperatures should an El Nino reinforce human-induced warming from greenhouse gases.

“We know from the past that many of the most significant droughts in Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and through India and so on, do occur during El Nino events,” Melbourne-based Jones said. “Certainly the odds are stacking up here in terms of below-average rainfall and, potentially, drought.”

All climate models surveyed indicated that an El Nino is probable this year, with six of seven models suggesting that thresholds for the event may be exceeded as early as July, the bureau said April 22. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center on April 10 put the chances at 65 percent, up from 52 percent. There are signs that an El Nino is imminent, presaging changes to global weather patterns, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization said April 15.

Crop Concerns

Disruptions associated with El Ninos have been most important for palm oil, cocoa, coffee and sugar, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Jeffrey Currie wrote in an April 13 report. An El Nino would boost risks to soft-commodity price forecasts, they wrote. The last El Nino was from 2009 to 2010, and since then the Pacific has either been in its cooler state, called La Nina, or neutral.

Warming waters in the Pacific Ocean due to El Nino can also kill sea life and expose reefs as sea levels in some areas drop, according to Wenju Cai, ocean climate characterization and prediction stream leader at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

In Samoa, reefs will be “exposed to the air for a few months and it will cause smelly fish,” he said in a Bloomberg Television interview today. “You’ll have a smelly reef.”

The Bureau of Meteorology will update its El Nino outlook on May 6.