WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. federal forecasters predict a warming
of the central Pacific Ocean this year that will change weather worldwide.
The warming, called an El Niño, can mean an even hotter year
coming up and billions of dollars in losses for food crops. Australia and South
A frica should be dry while parts of South America become dry and parts become
wet in an El Niño. Peru suffers the most, getting floods and poorer fishing.
But it could bring good news for some parts of the planet,
leading to fewer Atlantic hurricanes and more rain next winter for
drought-stricken California and Southern U.S. states. It also could bring and a
milder winter for the frigid U.S. northern tier next year, meteorologists said.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration issued
an official El Niño watch March 6. An El Niño is a warming of the central
Pacific once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the
tropics. It shakes up climate around the world, changing rain and temperature
Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction
Center, said the El Niño warming should develop by this summer, but that there
are no guarantees. Although early signs are appearing already a few hundred feet
below the ocean surface, meteorologists said an El Niño started to brew in 2012
and then shut down suddenly and unexpectedly.
The flip side of El Niño is called a La Niña, which has a
general cooling effect. It has been much more frequent than El Niños lately,
with five La Niñas and two small-to-moderate El Niños in the past nine years.
The last big El Niño was 1997-1998. Neither has appeared since mid-2012. El
Niños are usually strongest from December to April.
Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center
for Atmospheric Research, who wasn’t part of NOAA’s forecast, agreed that an El
Niño is brewing.
“This could be a substantial event and I think we’re due,”
he said. “And I think it could have major consequences.”
Scientific studies have tied El Niños to farming and fishing
problems and to upticks in insect-born disease, such as malaria. Commodity
traders even track El Niño cycles.
A study by Texas A&M University economics professor
Bruce McCarl found the last big El Niño of 1997-1998 cost about $3 billion in
Trenberth said this El Niño may even push the globe out of a
decade-long slowdown in temperature increase, “so suddenly global warming kicks
into a whole new level.”
Halpert said El Niños can be beneficial, however, and that
the one being forecast is “a perfect case.”
After years of dryness and low reservoirs, an El Niño’s wet
weather would be welcome in places such as California, he said.
“If they get too much rain, I think they’d rather have that
situation rather than another year of drought,” he said. “Sometimes you have to
pick your poison.”
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