El Niño Dissipating, But Timing Uncertain

The deadly El Nińo weather anomaly is slowly dissipating but the timing of its demise is very much up in the air, the U. S. government’s Climate Prediction Center said Feb. 4.

The abnormally warm waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which is a hallmark of El Nińo, should gradually cool during April to June, the CPC, a unit of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, wrote in a monthly update.

This indicates “a transition to… neutral conditions during (the) Northern Hemisphere spring. However, predicting the timing of this transition is highly uncertain,” the centre stated.

El Nińo means little boy in Spanish. The weather phenomenon causes havoc in global weather patterns, especially around 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.

CPC said the collective “oceanic and atmospheric anomalies reflect a strong and mature El Nińo.”

This was linked to the weak monsoon in the sugar cane areas of India, becoming a key factor in causing raw sugar prices to rally to a 29-year high in New York on prospects that India would have to import a lot more sugar this year.

The potential effect of El Nińo in the U. S. would be above-average rain in the southern states but below-average rain for the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley.

The northern states, except for New England, should get below-average snow and above-average temperatures. And below-average temperatures are expected for the south-central and southeastern U. S., the agency added.

The most serious impact of this El Nińo may strike the Philippines, the world’s biggest rice importer, which is expecting to buy a record 2.4 million tonnes of the food staple for its 93 million people in 2010.

If El Nińo persists into June, that would bring the weather pattern into the start of the annual hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean.

El Nińo was cited for the low number of hurricanes in last year’s storm season because it is supposed to allow wind shear to filter into the Atlantic, ripping apart nascent storms in the process or pushing them far out to sea.

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.

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