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LATIN AMERICA / THE CARIBBEAN
A new El Niño event in the making
Latinamerica Press
7/3/2014
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Region may face high temperatures, strong rains, flooding and droughts.

The United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed in a statement on June 26 that “there is a 60 percent likelihood of an El Niño being fully established between June and August, increasing to 75-80 percent for the October to December period.”

El Niño is a weather phenomenon characterized by warming of the Pacific Ocean’s surface water due to weakened easterly trade winds. For the region, this results in strong rains, flooding, droughts, high temperatures that can consistently destroy infrastructure, and loss of agricultural production, biodiversity and even human lives.

The WMO informed that while an increase in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean waters has been recorded, the atmospheric conditions, which include sea-level atmospheric pressure, cloud-coverage and trade winds, are still neutral. However, it predicts that the temperature of the tropical Pacific waters will continue to increase, peaking in the last trimester of 2014.

 “This indicates that El Niño has not yet become fully established, as it essentially depends on the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere. However, atmospheric patterns that are typical of a fully developed El Niño event on the basin-wide scale are still likely to appear,” stated the WMO.

For now, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informed that the average world temperatures in May were the highest in record.

Agricultural impacts
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in mid-June about the possible agricultural impacts of El Niño, pointing out that that the “southern parts of Latin America have tended to receive heavier rains, which include the major cereal growing areas of Argentina, southern Brazil and Uruguay. The heavy rains late in the year may delay plantings of the cereal crops, to be harvested from March onwards.”

The FAO indicated that “in Central America, an El Niño event is largely correlated with below-normal precipitation, and fewer or less intense hurricanes during the Atlantic hurricane season. This period corresponds to the main cereal cropping season and a main cereal cropping season and a period of below-normal rains could potentially dampen production. In South America, the El Niño phenomenon is associated with below-normal precipitation in northern parts of the sub-region, but these areas do not represent the large producing regions. However, reduced crop production could impact local supplies.” 

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud stated that “our understanding of El Niño and La Niña has increased dramatically in recent years and this knowledge has enabled us to develop very successful climate services for society. Advance warning has given governments around the world time to make contingency plans for the impact of this year’s expected El Niño on the agriculture, water management, health and other climate-sensitive sectors. We remain vulnerable to this force of nature but we can protect ourselves by being better prepared.”

“El Niño leads to extreme events and has a pronounced warming effect. It is too early to assess the precise impact on global temperatures in 2014, but we expect the long-term warming trend to continue as a result of rising greenhouse gas concentrations,” said Jarraud.
—Latinamerica Press.


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