Coming Soon (Maybe) To A Cinema Near You: El Nino!

28/11/13 -- There have been a few rumblings that world weather patterns recently are starting to hint at a developing El Nino - "the boy" in Spanish. The name derives from the Christ child, Jesus as he's otherwise known, because this periodic warming in the Pacific near South America is usually noticed around Christmas. Tick, that's coming all right - only 26 days to go!

What is it? And more importantly is it dangerous? What does it mean for crops?

El Nino is a band of anomalously warm ocean water temperatures that periodically develops off the western coast of South America and can cause climatic changes across the Pacific. (Get you Nogger - swallowed a dictionary have we?) One of it's key effects is that it can decimate the fish population off the coast of Peru as it reduces the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water that sustains them.

Bollocks to the fish Nogger, I hear (most of) you cry. Let's talk crops. Well, luckily for you I've had an email in from my old chum Gail Martell at Martell Crop Projections to tell me all about it. I can't ask Gail if it's OK for me to share it with you as she's probably knee-deep in giblets right now, so we're just going to have to assume that it is.

"Steady warming has occurred in the central Pacific Ocean indicating an El Nino signal. Modest warming began in the Central Pacific Ocean July-September, weakening in early October but resuming strength recently. A full fledged El Nino if it develops would cause rainfall anomalies in key agricultural areas around the world," says Gail. I bet that's got your interest hasn't it? Well, read on...

"While a full fledged El Nino has not yet developed weather conditions resemble El Nino in 'susceptible' areas. Eastern Australia has become very dry over the past several weeks, while much of Argentina has grown wetter. This see-saw rainfall pattern dry in the western Pacific Basin and wet in Argentina is a classic El Nino signature. Drought in New South Wales has already damaged the wheat outlook for Eastern Australia as harvesting progresses this November. Argentina summer crops corn and soybeans would be strongly affected.

"The southern United States becomes wet in winter. El Nino causes a very strong subtropical jet stream in winter and heavy rainfall in the southern United States. The stormy, wet weather this week is evidence of El Nino. A strong storm today is tracking up the East Coast an offshoot from the southern jet stream, causing heavy rain in the Mid Atlantic states and New England.

"The Indonesian Basin, a key area for palm oil production, is dry with an El Nino. This is the main cooking oil consumed in Asia, produced heavily in Malaysia and Indonesia and exported to China. The tropical oilseed is grown year round. If drought develops from El Nino is would be detrimental for production.

"India is very sensitive to El Nino in the summer, experiencing widespread heat and drought. Rainfall was abundant during the monsoon season June-September promoting the second largest grain harvest on record. The El Nino was not present in India this past summer, the El Nino effect kicked into gear after the monsoon season ended.

"South Africa often suffers from drought with the El Nino, the dry weather occurring November-May. It remains to be seen if drought develops in the weeks and months ahead."

"The El Nino template showing global rainfall anomalies was based on extensive research by Climate Prediction Center scientists Ropelewski and Halpert and released in 1987. While predictable El Nino rainfall patterns are present in the tropics and sub-tropics, the mid latitudes are not affected in Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Mongolia and China." (We're OK then, that's the main thing. And don't worry about the Mongolians - they're safe too).

"Argentina and South Brazil are typically wet with the El Nino during the southern hemisphere summer growing season December-February. The heavy rainfall recently in Argentina may be no accident occurring a an emerging El Nino. The last El Nino in 2010-11 encouraged a bumper grain harvest in Argentina. Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost farm state also turns wet with El Nino.

"Brazil’s top soybean state Mato Grosso typically receives abundant rainfall with El Nino especially the top producing areas in the Center and West in the October-December period. At the same time, dry conditions often develop in Northeastern Brazil. The classic El Nino rainfall pattern closely matches current conditions in Brazil."

Click the image at the top of this post to enlarge it for a summary, or just read this precis: Europe/FSU neutral; Australia dry in the east (don't worry about the convicts, as long as we're deliberately losing to them in the cricket, they aren't that bothered). China neutral. Brazil/Argentina wet, big crops. Indonesia dry. US wet in the south - potentially good for winter wheat. South Africa dry (bollocks to them - it's always hot and dry there anyway isn't it?)

Thanks Gail, your a hero. Well, a heroine actually. Have another roast potato or whatever it is that you guys eat over there.