Climate Models Indicate Likely El Nino Return: Australia

Colin Packham and Ratnajyoti Dutta PlanetArk 23 May 12;

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said the climate models it monitors indicate a possible return of the El Nino weather pattern, often linked to heavy rainfall and droughts, in the second half of 2012.

The last severe El Nino in 1998 killed more than 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage to crops, infrastructure and mines in Australia and other parts of Asia.

The bureau tracks seven climate models from compatriot meteorology centers around the world, of which five indicate above El Nino conditions, while the remaining two sit on the neutral - neither El Nino or La Nina - and warm border.

"Nobody is going to say that the models are 100 percent accurate, but if you look at the climate models, the risk of El Nino has gone up in recent weeks," said Andrew Watkins, manager of climate prediction at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

While the seven models hint at a return to El Nino, the World Meteorological Organization said last week it still maintains its neutral outlook for the second half of the year.

Echoing the views of Australia's weather bureau, the chief of India's state-run weather office said El Nino conditions were likely to emerge over the Pacific Ocean by mid-August.

"This (El Nino) may have some bearing on monsoon rains in some pockets of the country in the latter half of the season," L.S. Rathore, director general of the India Meteorological Department, told reporters in New Delhi.

Despite the possibility of El Nino conditions, India's weather office is sticking to its forecast of average monsoon rains this year, Rathore said.

The weather office last month forecast average rains in 2012, the third consecutive year. Rains are likely to hit India's southern coast on time.

India's monsoon rains are crucial for farm output and economic growth as about 55 percent of the south Asian nation's arable land is rain-fed, and agriculture accounts for about 15 percent of a nearly $2-trillion economy, Asia's third-biggest.

The last El Nino was recorded in 2009/10, though it was classified as weak to moderate.

El Nino is linked to extreme weather that can curtail production of crops and other commodities on a global scale.

Analysts have highlighted soybeans, palm oil and sugar as crops that could be drastically hit by a return of El Nino, affecting many Asian-Pacific economies.

Malaysia, the world's second-largest palm oil producer, could see lower output in 2013 if the El Nino results in poor rainfall. China, a key buyer of overseas corn in recent years, could be forced to step up imports.

Australian wheat production could also be hit if the country experiences lower-than-average rainfall.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)