El Nino Dissipating, But May Linger Through 2010

The deadly El Nino weather anomaly should dissipate by early summer in the northern hemisphere, but there is a chance a weak version will linger for the rest of 2010, according to a U.S. government report issued Thursday.

The federal government’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC), a unit of the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, said in a monthly update that the warm waters which are a hallmark of the phenomenon are slowly easing, and this indicates “a transition to … neutral conditions” in June or July.

But the CPC said there are “several models (which) suggest the potential of continued weak El Nino conditions through 2010, while others predict the development of La Nina conditions later in the year.”

El Nino means little boy in Spanish, and results in an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific. It also normally disrupts hurricane formation in the Atlantic.

The anomaly wreaks havoc in global weather patterns, especially the Asia-Pacific region, and was first noticed by Latin American anchovy fishermen in the 19th century who named it after the Christ child because it normally appears during Christmastime.

La Nina has the opposite effect of El Nino. It leads to cooler waters in the Pacific Ocean and is said to spur storm formation during the annual hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean.

This year’s El Nino was moderate to strong, according to the CPC, as sea surface temperatures stayed warm through February. But it was linked to the severe winter storms which have lashed the eastern United States.

It was also blamed for the weak monsoon which badly damaged the cane crop in India, forcing the world’s biggest sugar consumer import larger amounts of the sweetener and sparking a rally that drove prices to a 29-year high.

A severe dry spell has also hit the archipelago countries of Indonesia and the Philippines, forcing the latter to book large orders of rice. The Philippines is the world’s biggest rice importer. Manila booked a record 2.6 million tons of the food staple for its 93 million people in 2010.

CPC said the effect of El Nino this spring would include drier-than-average weather over Indonesia.

In the United States, there should be above-average rain in the Southwest, the south-central states, and Florida, and below-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes region, CPC forecast.

If El Nino persists into June, that would bring the weather pattern into the start of the annual hurricane season in the Atlantic, raising the prospect it may again hinder the formation of storms in the area.

The last major El Nino struck in 1997/98, killing scores of people and causing billions of dollars in damages around the world through floods in Latin America and drought in Asia and Australia.

(Editing by John Picinich)