El Nino Conditions Seen Forming by Japan as Pacific Warms

El Nino conditions appear to have formed and will probably continue over winter, according to forecasters in Japan, adding to signs that the event than can parch parts of Asia is returning.

The surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean was higher than normal in almost all areas in November, the Japan Meteorological Agency said in a statement on its website today. Models suggest there’s a high chance that El Nino conditions will continue in winter, the government forecaster said. The last El Nino was from 2009 to 2010.

The weather event can affect global agricultural markets as farmers contend with drought or too much rain, while also curbing the incidence of Atlantic hurricanes. Forecasters in Australia and New Zealand warned last week the weather pattern may soon be back. El Nino-like weather has already been seen in South America even without an official declaration of the event, Morgan Stanley said in a report yesterday.

“El Nino conditions appear to have already formed in summer based on the ocean and atmospheric conditions,” the Tokyo-based agency said. “However, convective activity near the international dateline is slack and the characteristic effects of El Nino on the atmosphere haven’t clearly appeared.”

El Ninos, which are caused by the periodic warming of the Pacific, occur every two to seven years and are associated with warmer-than-average years. Since the last El Nino, the Pacific has either been in its cooler state, called La Nina, or neutral. The event can bring milder winters to the northern U.S. as well as drier conditions to parts of Australia, Indonesia and northeastern Brazil.

Australia’s Outlook

Tropical Pacific temperatures have exceeded El Nino levels for a month and the Southern Oscillation Index, which indicates the development and intensity of El Nino or La Nina events, has remained at or near thresholds for three months, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on Dec. 2. Patterns are consistent with a weak event developing, New Zealand’s National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research said separately that day.

“Regardless of whether an El Nino is declared, El Nino-like effects are likely,” Australia’s bureau said in the fortnightly update, citing impacts already seen in the country as well as in Asia, South America and southern Africa. The bureau maintained at least a 70 percent chance that an event will be declared in the coming months.

Water Curbs

Weather in South America, including above-normal rain in Argentina and southern Brazil, has been typical of an El Nino for much of last month, Morgan Stanley said yesterday. New Zealand is facing summer water restrictions in some regions as the pattern develops. An El Nino would skew risk to soft-commodity forecasts to the upside, Goldman said in April.

In the U.S., milder winter temperatures across the north and cooler readings in the south, along with storms in California, all show the weather is acting as if an El Nino were already under way, said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

The chances of an El Nino occurring in the next three months have been raised to 65 percent from 58 percent, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Dec. 4, citing rising surface temperatures across the Pacific during November. A corresponding change in the atmosphere didn’t follow, so the El Nino phenomenon couldn’t be declared, the agency said.

While sea-surface temperatures “alone might imply weak El Nino conditions, the patterns of wind and rainfall anomalies generally do not clearly indicate a coupling of the atmosphere to the ocean,” the U.S. forecaster said.

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