The U.S. government forecaster warned on Thursday that the feared El Niño phenomenon, which can affect global weather, is almost certain to occur over the next two months, potentially adding strain to global food supplies.
El Niño conditions will likely arrive in August or September and lead to weak-to-moderate weather conditions over the Northern Hemisphere’s autumn and winter, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said in its monthly report.
This is the strongest prediction yet by the CPC, part of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), after it issued its first El Nino watch in June, warning the phenomenon could materialize in the second half of the year.
“Nearly all of the dynamical models favor the onset of El Niño beginning in July-September 2012,” the U.S. Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said in its monthly update.
“There is increased confidence for a weak-to-moderate El Niño during the Northern Hemisphere fall and winter 2012/13,” it said.
Its arrival, warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, raises the chances of favorable planting conditions in South America but could roil farmers in Asia and Africa where it could deprive crucial harvests of rain.
Its effects will be closely watched in India, where the slow development of vital monsoon rains have already hampered the planting of summer crops, such as rice, oilseeds and cotton, and weather forecasters have already warned of the first drought in three years. The country is the world’s No. 2 sugar producer.
Concerns are also mounting in the cocoa market that El Niño-affected weather could damage harvests in Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s largest bean producers.
Cocoa prices jumped to nine-month highs on Thursday on ideas that a lack of rain could further curb prospects for the crop’s tail. Analysts have warned the market could tip into deficit.
Wetter weather in South America may come as a relief to farmers in Brazil and Argentina as crop planting starts in September, particularly after the dry spell caused by El Niño’s opposite number, La Nina, last season.
Heavy rains though can damage crops. Brazil is the world’s biggest producer of sugar, coffee and soybeans. Argentina is a major soybean exporter.
Keenly watched by the U.S. oil industry, the phenomenon may reduce the chances of storms forming in the Atlantic basin towards the end of the hurricane season that runs to Nov. 30.
In a separate report on Thursday, the weather agency predicted a slightly more active 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, but said warming seas and the arrival of El Niño would bring near-normal to above-normal storm activity.
(Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)