Not Seen Since 1997: El Nino Warming Pacific, Australia Says

Updated on

The El Nino developing in the Pacific keeps sending signs reminiscent of the most severe event in 1997-98, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, which said that recent data point toward a pattern that’ll last all year.

The 2015 El Nino, the first since 2010, continues to develop and models suggest further warming of the tropical Pacific is likely, the bureau said on Tuesday in a fortnightly update. Sea-surface temperatures are forecast to remain above El Nino thresholds for the remainder of the year, it said.

“All five Nino indices are at least plus 1.2 degrees Celsius above-normal,” the bureau said. “It is unusual to have such a broad extent of warmth across the tropical Pacific; this has not been seen since the El Nino event of 1997-98.”

The 1997-98 event was the strongest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which described the impact of that event as spectacular, stretching from Indonesia to Chile and the U.S. The weather patterns can scorch Asia as temperatures rise, hurting crops from rice to coffee and palm oil, while crimping the hurricane season in the Atlantic and bringing cooler, wetter summers to the U.S.

All five sea-surface indexes in the tropical Pacific exceeded plus 1 degree Celsius, the Australian bureau said in the last update on May 26, adding that that’s the first time it’s occurred since the 1997-98 El Nino.

Food Costs

El Ninos are caused by periodic warmings of the Pacific, and they can spur turmoil as farmers contend with drought or too much rain. Their impact can drive faster inflation across Asia as food costs rise, and may also extend to metals markets.

Countries that are vulnerable to an El Nino-related inflation outbreak include India, Indonesia and the Philippines, according to an analysis by Citigroup Inc. In India, forecasters said this month that the event may hurt this year’s monsoon, potentially undermining farm output. That could damage the country’s demand for gold, according to ABN Amro Group NV.

All eight international models indicated the central Pacific will warm further, the Australian bureau said. The models indicated El Nino thresholds may be exceeded at least until the end of the year, it said.

A sea-surface temperature map for the week to June 7 clearly showed the pattern in the Pacific, with a warm tongue extending from the South American coastline, the bureau said. The tongue extended past the international dateline, it said.

(Updates to add comment on warming in final paragraph.)
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