El Nino giveth and taketh away

2015-07-28 18:10
El Nino

El Nino

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - In California, they're counting on it to end an historic drought; in Peru, they've already declared a pre-emptive emergency to prepare for devastating flooding. It's both an economic stimulus and a recession-maker. And it's likely to increase the price of coffee, chocolate and sugar.

It's El Nino - most likely, the largest in well over a decade, forecasters say. A lot more than mere weather, it affects lives and pocketbooks in different ways in different places.

Every few years, the winds shift and the water in the Pacific Ocean gets warmer than usual. That water sloshes back and forth around the equator in the Pacific, interacts with the winds above and then changes weather worldwide. This is El Nino. Droughts are triggered in places like Australia and India, but elsewhere, droughts are quenched and floods replace them.

The Pacific gets more hurricanes; the Atlantic fewer. Winter gets milder and wetter in much of the United States. The world warms, goosing Earth's already rising thermometer from man-made climate change.

Peruvian sailors named the formation El Nino - the (Christ) Child - because it was most noticeable around Christmas. An El Nino means the Pacific Ocean off Peru's coast is warm, especially a huge patch 100m below the surface, and as it gets warmer and close to the surface, the weather "is just going to be a river falling from the sky," said biophysicist Michael Ferrari, director of climate services for agriculture at the Colorado firm aWhere Inc.

Around the world, crops fail in some places, thrive elsewhere. Commercial fishing shifts. More people die of flooding, fewer from freezing. Americans spend less on winter heating. The global economy shifts.

"El Nino is not the end of the world so you don't have to hide under the bed. The reality is that in the US an El Nino can be a good thing," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.

This El Nino officially started in March and keeps getting stronger. If current trends continue, it should officially be termed a strong El Nino early in August, peak sometime near the end of year and peter out sometime next spring. Meteorologists say it looks like the biggest such event since the fierce El Nino of 1997-1998.

California mudslides notwithstanding, the US economy benefited by nearly $22bn from that El Nino, according to a 1999 study. That study found that 189 people were killed in the US, mainly from tornadoes linked to El Nino, but an estimated 850 lives were saved due to a milder winter.

A United Nations-backed study said that El Nino cost Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela nearly $11bn. Flooding in Peru destroyed bridges, homes, hospitals and crops and left 354 dead and 112 missing, according to the Pan-American Health Organisation. The mining industry in Peru and Chile was hammered as flooding hindered exports.

Vulnerable supply chains

Though this year's El Nino is likely to be weaker than the 1997-1998 version, the economic impact may be greater because the world's interconnected economy has changed with more vulnerable supply chains, said risk and climate expert Ferrari.

Economic winners include the US, China, Mexico and Europe while India, Australia and Peru are among El Nino's biggest losers.

On average, a healthy El Nino can boost the US economy by about 0.55% of Gross Domestic Product, which would translate more than $90bn this year, an International Monetary Fund study calculated this spring. But it could also slice an entire percentage point off Indonesia's GDP.

Indonesia gets hit particularly hard because an expected El Nino drought affects the country's mining, power, cocoa, and coffee industries, said IMF study co-author Kamiar Mohaddes, an economist at the University of Cambridge in London.

The expected El Nino drought in parts of Australia has started and may trim as much as one percent off of the country's GDP, said Andrew Watkins, supervisor of climate prediction services at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Tony Barnston, lead El Nino forecaster at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, cautioned that while El Nino has predictable effects and this one is strong, what happens next is not exactly certain.

But Peruvians are worried. Abraham Levy, director of Ambiental Andina, which advises businesses on meteorology- and hydrology-related issues, believes this El Nino could lead Peru into recession.

Important export crops such as mangos and asparagus that grow in coastal valleys are already being adversely affected by the unseasonably high temperatures, said Levy.

"The export mango crop has not yet flowered," he said. "And if we don't have flowers we don't have fruit."

And then there's the flooding. Peru declared a pre-emptive state of emergency this month for 14 of its 25 states, appropriating some $70 million to prepare. Hilopito Cruchaga, the civil defence director in Peru's northern region of Piura, said authorities are clearing river beds of debris, reinforcing river banks with rock and fortifying reservoir walls. Sandbags and rocks are also being piled on some river banks.

"If the sea stays this hot at the end of August I'm afraid we're doomed," he said.

Read more on:    noaa  |  weather

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.