Scientists don’t know when El Niño will end

2015-12-05 11:15
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Pietermaritzburg - When will the biggest El Niño event the world has seen, end?.

That’s the question scientists are asking, but it is proving difficult to predict.

Speaking to Weekend Witness, ­University of KwaZulu-Natal ­agrometeorologist Professor Mike Savage explained El Niño and the effects it has on South Africa.

He said it is an ocean-atmosphere climate pattern that is occurring in the south equatorial Pacific between the east coast of Australia and the west coast of South America.

He said that although it occurs between Australia and South America, its impact can be felt all over the globe.

“Scientists understand many of the mechanisms explaining El Niño but do not fully understand its triggering and ending mechanisms.

“They have not been able to accurately forecast it, even over periods longer than several months.”

The El Niño currently being experienced is one of the longest, with a duration already of almost two years.

“It is not just the strength of the El Niño event but also its duration that has affected the drought,” said Savage.

“The present El Niño conditions have prevailed since almost the beginning of 2014.

“Some scientists expect it to continue until the third quarter of 2016.

“The last extended El Niño period was 1940 to mid-1942. The extremely cold European winter of 1942, when German troops advanced on the Soviet Union from the west, has been attributed to this extended El Niño period.

“There were also severe droughts experienced in the Sahel region of Africa and a number of countries in west Africa, and crop failures in Australia.

“The predictions for the rest of 2015 and the first half or more of 2016 indicate continued El Niño, and further drought conditions in southern Africa.”

He said the South African Weather Service issued an advisory in late October which reported a strengthening of an El Niño episode towards the summer and autumn of 2016, with a continued likelihood of dry conditions over most parts of South Africa. The weather service said the country can expect extreme warmer temperatures throughout the 2016 summer, which will fuel the drought. “The World Meteorological Organisation has made predictions for 2015/2016 for South Africa of the chance for above- and below-normal rainfall for three-monthly periods of 2015/2016 — November-December-January, December-January-February and February-March-April.

“Of particular note is that there is a slim chance of above-average rainfall for most of South Africa for the period of November 2015 to April 2016. Also, there is a more than an even chance of below-average rainfall for most of South Africa for the period December 2015 to April 2016,” said Savage.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  drought

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