UN sees 70 per cent chance of El Nino event this year

Around 600 families from five different indigenous communities in Honduras are facing starvation due to the loss of their crops, after they experienced severe droughts caused by the El Nino climate phenomenon.
Around 600 families from five different indigenous communities in Honduras are facing starvation due to the loss of their crops, after they experienced severe droughts caused by the El Nino climate phenomenon.PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP, XINHUA) - An El Nino event that could disrupt global weather is likely by the end of what has already been a hot year, the UN said on Monday (Sept 10).

The World Meteorological Organisation forecast "a 70 per cent chance of an El Nino developing by the end of this year," a WMO statement said.

El Nino is triggered by periodic warming in the eastern Pacific Ocean which can trigger drought in some regions, heavy rain in others.

El Nino is often associated with warm and dry conditions in southern and eastern inland areas, such as Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and central Pacific islands; and with milder winters in north-western Canada and Alaska due to fewer cold air surges from the Arctic, a result of a large-scale region of lower pressure centred on the Gulf of Alaska/ North Pacific Ocean.

"WMO does not expect the anticipated El Nino to be as powerful as the 2015-2016 event, but it will still have considerable impacts," the statement said.

The organisation sees increased odds of higher surface temperatures in most of Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America, Africa and along much of South America's coastline.

Interior parts of South America, Greenland, many south Pacific islands and some in the Caribbean were identified as possible exceptions.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas noted that 2018 "is on track to be one of the warmest on record," after especially high temperatures in July and August across several parts of the world.

This year started out with a weak La Nina event but its cooling effect was not enough to reduce the overall warming trend, which means that this year is on track to be one of the warmest on record.

"Despite the recent 'ENSO-neutral' conditions, the globe broadly continued the trend of warmer than normal conditions for May to July, accompanied by extreme weather ranging from record heat in northern Europe and devastating flooding in Japan, India and Southeast Asia. Many of these events are consistent with what we expect under climate change," Taalas said.

Meanwhile, the Meteorological Service Singapore believes that the El Nino event of 2015/2016 was one of the strongest in recent history, and that a repeat on that scale is unlikely.

“Should the El Nino occur, it is not likely to have a significant impact on rainfall patterns over Singapore and the nearby region due to its expected weak to moderate intensity and late development during the year-end rainy season,” an MSS spokesman said in a recent interview.

Professor Benjamin Horton, a principal investigator at the Earth Observatory of Singapore, however, warns of the potential impact on soaring temperatures. 

"The year 2016 ranks as the warmest on record globally and here in Singapore, which had a mean annual temperature of 28.4°C," he said, adding that 2016 was an El Niño year, and mainland South-east Asia encountered its warmest monthly mean surface air temperatures in April 2016 since record-keeping began over 100 years ago.

"Apart from surpassing national temperature records in mainland South-east Asia, this event disrupted crop production, imposed societal distress and resulted in peak energy consumption," he noted.

"Therefore there is a possibility that 2018 and 2019 will match or perhaps even exceed the temperature records set in 2016 for South-east Asia and will challenge even the wealthiest, most developed countries of South-east Asia, and will be devastating for the poorest and least developed." 

Additional reporting by Jose Hong