Natural Disasters

El Niño gathers strength, likely to continue into winter: Japan Met agency

There are fears that a strong El Niño this year like the one in 1997-98, will push up food inflation across South and Southeast Asia

By Shreeshan Venkatesh
Published: Wednesday 10 June 2015

El Niño affects monsoon which, in turn, hits kharif crop production (Credit: Vikas Choudhary)

The Japan Meteorological Agency said on Wednesday that El Niño, which has been observed across eastern and central Pacific Ocean recently, is strengthening and is likely to continue into the winter season.

The statement comes on the heels of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s (BoM) announcement on Tuesday that sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) were continuing to rise across the eastern and central Pacific.

According to the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) statement, “There is an approximately 90 per cent chance that El Niño conditions will continue throughout (the) 2015 summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and a greater than 80 per cent chance (that) it will last through 2015.”

Image showing variation in El Niño indices over the last one year (Credit: NOAA)

High sea temperatures

BoM has also suggested a strong possibility that SST forecast would remain above El Niño thresholds (0.5 °C) in the tropical Pacific Ocean for the remainder of the year.
According to the Australian weather agency, the most recent SST map clearly shows a warm tongue region extending across the tropical Pacific Ocean from the South American coast to well beyond the International Date Line.

Image showing the warm tongue region in the Pacific Ocean (Credit: Australian Bureau of Meteorology)

After near-zero anomalies were observed in early January in the Tropical Eastern Pacific, recent observations note a strong increase in SSTs in this region while above-average SSTs have persisted in central and western Pacific.

The latest SST map shows that the largest positive anomalies are present off the eastern coast of South America. SSTs across the eastern Atlantic and Indian oceans have also been noted to be above the average equatorial SSTs.

All the five El Niño indices, which are used to track the development of heating patterns throughout SSTs, have indicated increases of above 1.2°C with some regions recording increases of over 2°C.

This is for the first time since the 1997-98 El Niño event that such high positive anomalies have been observed over such a large area. The 1997-98 El Niño, stretching from Southeast Asia to South America and the US, is the strongest such event on record.

There are fears that like the 1997-98 event, there might be negative impacts on agriculture which will push up food inflation across South and Southeast Asia.

Evolution and forcing mechanisms of El Niño over the past 21,000 years

Increasing frequency of extreme El Niño events due to greenhouse warming

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