El Nino’s bark is worse than its bite

The impact of a strengthening El Nino on world crop production has been overstated, say meteorologists.

This year’s El Nino is the second strongest since 1950 when researchers began measuring the intensity of the event by monitoring temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Drew Lerner, president of World Weather Inc., has seen numerous media reports suggesting crop damage could rival or exceed what occurred in 1997-98, which is the strongest El Nino on record.

“This El Nino has not been nearly as significant as the 1997-98 event in regards to world crop disasters or world crop losses and it’s not going to (be),” he said.

“I just want folks to maybe relax a little bit and not get so caught up in the hype because I really think the media has misled everybody.”

Weather forecasters incorrectly predicted an El Nino many times before it actually occurred this year.

They were fooled by an El Nino Modoki phenomenon characterized by a warming in the central tropical Pacific Ocean. A traditional El Nino occurs when there is a warming in the eastern equatorial Pacific.

A typical El Nino creates a low pressure system above the eastern equatorial Pacific bracketed by high pressure systems on either side that reduce rainfall over important crop production areas such as India, Southeast Asia and Australia.

However, due to the Modoki El Nino, there was a low pressure system over the central tropical Pacific and a high pressure system over the eastern equatorial Pacific.

“When the water started warming in the eastern Pacific there was a failure in the low pressure system to develop because the Modoki event had already put a high pressure system over that water,” said Lerner.

That disrupted the normal chain reaction of weather events.

“Once you screw it up with Modoki you screw it up for the rest of the world and we can’t have the same level of abnormal weather,” he said.

The Modoki event has gradually died out over the past six to eight weeks giving rise to more traditional El Nino weather patterns but it is has already missed the growing season in many areas of the world.

“The end result is that the impact on all these places around the world will be considerably less than it would have been had we not had that Modoki event first,” said Lerner.

David Streit, agricultural meteorologist with Commodity Weather Group, agreed that the 2015-16 El Nino won’t cause as much damage as the 1997-98 event due to what is occurring in other ocean locations around the world.

India’s monsoon is normally significantly affected by El Nino but this year the impact was muted by warmer-than-normal temperatures in the western Indian Ocean, which enhances rainfall for India.

“It offset some of the impacts of the El Nino situation,” he said.

Streit agreed with Lerner that the Modoki event lessened the impact of El Nino on Indonesia and Malaysia, two important palm oil producing countries.

That is because it was warmer than usual in the western tropical Pacific.

“Australia is getting off easy because of that as well,” he said.

El Nino could still cause problems in Southeast Asia and it is responsible for dry conditions in Central America and Mexico.

It often results in soggy conditions in southern Brazil and eastern Argentina. It hasn’t been too wet so far in those areas but there could be some flooding in the future as the traditional El Nino takes hold. That could delay spring planting of corn and soybeans.

Streit expects El Nino to ease drought concerns in California and create good planting conditions for the U.S. hard red winter wheat crop, although it could disrupt the soybean harvest in southern states.

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