WASHINGTON • The current El Nino phenomenon, a global weather pattern known to wreak havoc every few years, should last until next year and is likely to become one of the strongest on record.
That expected strength makes El Nino likely to peak late this year and bring more precipitation than normal to the drought-stricken south-western United States, the US Climate Prediction Centre said on Thursday.
There has been a growing consensus among forecasters for a strong El Nino, the warming of Pacific sea surface temperatures.
"At this point, it could be one of the three strongest El Ninos we have seen," Mr Mike Halpert, deputy director of the centre, said.
Between June and August, average sea surface temperatures in affected regions were the third- warmest since record keeping began, the centre said, behind 1987 and 1997.
"In any measure, 1997 was still stronger than we are seeing right now," said Mr Halpert.
Forecasters placed the likelihood at 95 per cent that this El Nino, in which warmer Pacific waters cause changes to global weather circulation, will last until April or May next year. It would mean increased likelihood of rain for parched areas of drought-stricken California later this year, although the Pacific north-west states of Oregon and Washington would probably not get much relief.
And it placed the likelihood that the south-western US states will see much-needed wetter than normal winters between 33 and 60 per cent, depending on region.
But Mr Halpert said the most reliable prediction regarding El Nino's impacts is that the Gulf of Mexico and bordering regions will have a wetter than normal winter.
It is also expected to contribute to warmer than average temperatures in Alaska, Canada and the northern, western and central US. Mr Halpert said savings on heating bills would be welcome in places such as North Dakota.
"El Nino actually is good for some parts of the country," he said. "They have done studies showing the US is one of the big winners economically regarding El Nino."
Due to its associated changes in sea surface temperatures, El Nino is expected to contribute to a below-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic and above-normal in the central and eastern Pacific.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS