El Nino May Return as Models Signal Warming of Pacific Ocean

Jan 28, 2014 3:38 am ET

(Adds forecaster’s comments in third, final paragraphs.)

Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- An El Nino weather pattern, which can parch Australia and parts of Asia while bringing rains to South America, may occur in the coming months as the Pacific Ocean warms, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

Most climate models suggest the tropical Pacific will warm through the southern autumn and winter, the bureau said in a statement today. Some models predict this warming may approach El Nino thresholds by early winter, it said. Australia’s autumn runs from March to May and winter is from June to August.

El Ninos, which are caused by the warming of the Pacific, affect weather worldwide and can roil agricultural markets as farmers contend with drought or too much rain. An El Nino trend is likely to develop this year, Gavin Schmidt, deputy director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said this month. It’s been almost five years since the last event, which typically occurs every two to seven years, according to Indonesia’s Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency.

“Less spring rainfall for the east coast would be the major concern” for Australia, said Paul Deane, an analyst at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Melbourne. “It increases the chance that we’re not going to get trend wheat yields, that would be one of the risks. The other one would be on livestock, where you’d have lower pasture growth.”

Food Costs

Global food costs tracked by the United Nations dropped 3.4 percent last year amid record wheat and corn harvests. The price of Thai 5 percent broken white rice, an Asian benchmark, lost 23 percent to $450 a ton in 2013. Thailand, Vietnam and India are the world’s biggest rice exporters.

In the U.S., milk futures climbed to a record this month amid drought in California, the biggest producer, while cattle also rallied to an all-time high on lower domestic beef output. In Australia, abattoirs will increase slaughter by 5.6 percent to 8.9 million head in the year ending June 30, boosting beef exports to a record, the government estimates.

“Most climate models surveyed by the bureau suggest the tropical Pacific Ocean will warm through the southern autumn and winter,” the Melbourne-based office said. “Some, but not all, models predict this warming may approach El Nino thresholds by early winter.” The next update is expected on Feb. 11.

Depending on the size of the El Nino, it may push 2014 and, more likely, 2015 up the rankings of warmest years on record, the Goddard Institute’s Schmidt said on a conference call. The Earth’s warmest years, 2010 and 2005, were associated with the weather pattern.

El Ninos are associated with drier conditions in Australia, particularly in the country’s east, according to the weather bureau. The pattern occurred in 2009-2010, 2006-2007 and 2002-2003, according to the bureau.

“The last El Nino happened in 2009,” said Erwin Eka Syahputra, head of the Climate Early Warning Unit at Indonesia’s meteorology agency in Jakarta. “The El Nino has a cycle period of as fast as two years or the longest is seven years. So, if we look at that criteria, there is a possibility.”

--Editors: Jake Lloyd-Smith, Thomas Kutty Abraham