The El Niño that disrupted weather worldwide last year has peaked. Now forecasters are predicting what may be next for the world’s climate.
A number of El Niño-Southern Oscillation indicators suggest that the 2015-16 El Niño has peaked and weather models predict it will decline in coming months, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on its website on Tuesday. Conditions will return to neutral during the second quarter with a chance of La Niña in the second half of 2016, it said.
La Niña is a cooling in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, sometimes thought of as El Niño’s opposite. The two are extreme phases of a naturally occurring cycle, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Based on the 26 El Niño events since 1900, about 50 percent have been followed by a neutral year with 40 percent by La Niña, according to Australia’s weather bureau.
“Neutral and La Niña are equally likely for the second half,” the bureau said. A repeat of El Niño is the least likely outcome, it said.
The current El Niño is rated as one of the three strongest since 1950. The warming of the equatorial Pacific changes weather worldwide, bringing drought to parts of Asia while the southern U.S. can get more rain. Its effects helped palm oil cap its best year since 2010, while sugar posted its first annual gain in five years.
La Niña can also roil agricultural markets as it changes weather. A large part of the agricultural U.S. tends to dry out during La Niña events, while parts of Australia and Indonesia can be wetter than normal. Citigroup Inc. has said that a transition to a strong La Niña may present significant upside potential for grains price volatility.
The previous La Niña began in 2010 and endured into 2012. Conditions typically last between 9 months and 12 months, while some episodes may persist for as long as two years, according to NOAA. Both La Niña and El Niño tend to peak during the Northern Hemisphere winter.