El Niño Strengthens as Pacific Temperatures Show Same Trend as ’97-’98

By | May 26, 2015

The El Niño taking hold across the Pacific strengthened, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, citing indexes of sea-surfaces temperatures that showed the same trend for the first time since the event in 1997-1998.

All five NINO indexes, averaged over the past four weeks, exceeded plus 1 degree Celsius, the bureau said in its fortnightly update on Tuesday. That’s the first time this has occurred since the 1997-1998 El Niño, the bureau said.

Australia this month joined the U.S. and Japan in declaring that the first El Niño since 2010 had begun. The 1997-1998 event was the strongest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The weather patterns can bake parts of Asia, hurting crops from rice to palm oil, while crimping the hurricane season in the Atlantic and bringing more rain across the southern U.S.

“The area of warm anomalies in the tropical Pacific now more resembles a classical El Niño pattern,” the bureau said. “Sea surface temperatures will remain well above El Niño thresholds at least into the southern hemisphere spring.”

The Australian bureau warned earlier this month the latest event will probably be substantial. The patterns are powered by a warming of the tropical Pacific, and sea surface and subsurface temperatures are among the data tracked by forecasters along with air pressure, winds and cloudiness.

Food Prices

The El Niño may spur a rapid rise in Philippine food prices, Chikahisa Sumi, head of the International Monetary Fund’s mission to the Philippines, said in a statement released in Manila on Tuesday. The government must quickly address food-supply disruptions by increasing imports, Sumi said.

“If the El Niño intensity is anything like 1997-98, the plantation and related agro-industries should brace for the worse,” Franki Anthony Dass, executive vice president of plantations at Sime Darby Bhd., said in a text message on Tuesday. “Prolonged droughts will have a severe impact on the growth and production in the months ahead.”

Palm oil production in Indonesia dropped 7.1 percent in 1997-1998, while it slid 5.5 percent in Malaysia, U.S. Agriculture Department data show. The two countries account for 86 percent of world supplies.

–With assistance from Clarissa Batino and Siegfrid Alegado in Manila and Ranjeetha Pakiam in Kuala Lumpur.

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