El Nino Seen Delayed by Australia as Ocean Warming Eases

Australia remains on El Nino alert even as a slowing in Pacific Ocean warming may push back the onset of the weather event that brings drought to the Asia-Pacific region and heavier-than-usual rains to South America.

While there has been some easing in the outlook, climate models indicate an El Nino will probably develop by spring, which begins in September in Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website today. The alert indicates at least a 70 percent chance of the event developing this year, it said. The bureau had said June 3 that the pattern would be established by August.

El Ninos can roil agricultural markets worldwide as farmers contend with drought or too much rain. Forecasters from the U.S. to the United Nations have warned the event may happen this year. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says disruptions associated with El Ninos have been most important for cocoa, coffee, sugar and palm oil. Brazil’s winter-corn crops may face losses due to rain from the weather pattern, according to Somar Meteorologia.

“Warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean over the past several months has primed the climate system for an El Nino in 2014,” Australia’s weather bureau said. “However, in the absence of the necessary atmospheric response, warming has leveled off in recent weeks.”

El Ninos, caused by the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific, occur every two to seven years and are associated with warmer-than-average years. 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.

Weak Event

The event this year will probably be weak, according to Commodity Weather Group LLC and AccuWeather Inc.

Warm water extending along the equator in the eastern and central Pacific is typical of an emerging El Nino, Australia’s weather bureau said. The west to east gradient of temperature anomalies is not yet typical of an El Nino and may be limiting the response in the tropical atmosphere, it said.

Australia, the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter, last week reduced its production forecast to 24.6 million metric tons from a March estimate of 24.8 million amid the risk of El Nino and drier growing conditions. The pattern is associated with below-average rainfall over southern and eastern inland areas of Australia, according to the weather bureau.

A moderate El Nino would reduce palm oil output by as much as 12 percent in Malaysia, the world’s second-largest producer, according to IOI Corp. An event as severe as in 1997-1998 may cut production by as much as 15 percent, Chief Executive Officer Lee Yeow Chor estimates.

India’s monsoon rainfall, the main source of irrigation for the nation’s farmers, will probably be below normal this year as El Nino emerges, the India Meteorological Department said this month. That may lead to soft commodity production shortfalls that could cause a spike in inflation and slowdown in economic growth, Newedge USA LLC said June 5.

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