Wednesday, September 2, 2015

El Niño

By Anton Antonio
September 3, 2015

PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) warns of strong El Niño this year.  But what exactly is El Niño?

“El Niño is defined by prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures when compared with the average value.  The U.S. NOAA definition is a 3-month average warming of at least 0.5 degrees Centigrade in a specific area of the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean, other organizations define the term slightly differently.  Typically, this anomaly happens at irregular intervals of two to seven years, and lasts nine months to two years.  The average period length is five years.  When this warming occurs for seven to nine months, it is classified as El Niño “conditions”, when its duration is longer, it is classified as an El Niño “episode”.  The first signs of an El Niño are a weakening of the Walker circulation or trade winds and strengthening of the Hadley circulation and may include: (1) Rise in surface pressure over the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, and Australia; (2) Fall in air pressure over Tahiti and the rest of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean; (3) Trade winds in the south Pacific weaken or head east; and, (4) Warm air rises near Peru, causing rain in the northern Peruvian deserts.  El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (between approximately the International Date Line and 120 degrees W), including off the Pacific coast of South America.  El Niño Southern Oscillation refers to the cycle of warm and cold temperatures, as measured by sea surface temperature, SST, of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean.  El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific.  The cool phase of ENSO is called “La Niña” with SST in the eastern Pacific below average and air pressure high in the eastern and low in the western Pacific.  The ENSO cycle, both El Niño and La Niña, causes global changes of both temperatures and rainfall.”  (Wikipedia)

To get all of us updated on the El Niño phenomenon, here are two researched news items from local and foreign news agencies:

By Helen Flores, The Philippine Star
September 1, 2015

MANILA – The state weather bureau yesterday warned the public to brace for warmer temperatures and stronger tropical cyclones during the “ber” months due to the prevailing El Niño phenomenon.  Based on the latest climate forecast of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) “slightly warmer than average” temperature is expected in most parts of the country from September until February 2016, except for the mountainous areas in Luzon which will have “slightly cooler than average” temperature.  “We could still experience the cold season but we are expecting that (warmer temperatures), which is typical for an El Niño,” Anthony Lucero, officer-in-charge of PAGASA’s climate monitoring and prediction section, told The STAR.  For this month, the forecast ranges of temperature will be as follows: mountainous Luzon (16-22 degrees Celsius); lowland Luzon (22-33 degrees Celsius); lowland Visayas (24-33 degrees Celsius); lowland Mindanao (22-32 degrees Celsius); and mountainous Mindanao (18-29 degrees Celsius).  PAGASA expects the shifting of wind from the warm and moisture-laden southwesterly to the cold northeasterly by October.  For January, normally the peak of the northeast monsoon, slightly warmer weather is predicted in lowland Luzon, lowland Visayas and lowland Mindanao, Lucero said.  The weather bureau also expects a significant reduction in rainfall in most parts of the country beginning this month until February next year.  Lucero noted that 65 provinces may suffer moderate to severe drought during the period, of which 35 are in Luzon, 16 in the Visayas and 14 in Mindanao.  “We expect the full impact (of El Niño) to happen in the last quarter of the year until next year.  Cry spell and drought will affect most provinces of the Philippines,” he said.  Lucero warned that there is also a big possibility of stronger cyclones during the last quarter of the year due to the El Niño.  He said five to eight tropical cyclones may develop or enter the Philippine area of responsibility until February 2016.  Scientists of the US National Oceanic and atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicted that the El Niño weather phenomenon could be “among the strongest El Niños in the historical record dating back to 1950.”  El Niño can cause unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.  It began in March and is seen to last until May next year.” --- The Philippine Star

August 14, 2015

MIAMI – The El Niño weather phenomenon that began this year could be among the strongest in 65 years, US government scientists said Thursday. El Niño comes with a warming in sea temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, and can cause unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.  This year’s El Niño began in March and is forecast to last about a year.  Authorities in Australia have already predicted it would be “strong” and “substantial.”  That trend is still expected to continue, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, on a conference call with reporters to discuss the US agency’s latest forecast, released Thursday.  “What is new this month is we are predicting that this El Niño could be among the strongest El Niños in the history record back to 1950,” said Halpert.  The reason for the forecast is the finding that three months of average sea surface temperatures in a key part of the equatorial Pacific “could potentially reach or even exceed two degrees Celsius above normal, which is 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, a value that we have only recorded three times in the last 65 years,: he said.  Such temperatures were previously been in the 1972-71 season, 1982-83 season and 1997-98.  The southern United States from Florida to central California may expect higher than normal levels of precipitation, as can the US East coast as far north as New England, Harper said.  The northern Rockies, great Lakes, Hawaii and western Alaska may be dryer and warmer than normal, he added.  Even though forecast of rain will be welcome in drought-ravaged California, Halpert said it would not be enough to refill the state’s reservoirs.  “One season of above average rain and snow is very unlikely to erase four years of drought,” he said.  The last El Niño, five years ago, had a major impact: it triggered monsoons in Southeast Asia, droughts in southern Australia, the Philippines and Ecuador, blizzards in the United States, heatwaves in Brazil and killer floods in Mexico.” --- Agence France Presse / Rappler

The El Niño phenomenon happening in the last quarter of this year and extend up to the first quarter of next year is a real worrisome problem (if it comes to pass).  The most likely impact will be on (a) potable water availability, (b) health issues because of the extreme hot weather conditions, and (c) agricultural productivity and consequently on food security… although there will be other peripheral potential problems.  We, as a people, together with government should (this early) start preparing for this year’s El Niño.

Thoughts to promote positive action…

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REFERENCES: “El Niño”.  Retrieved on September 3, 2015 from “Warmer Temperatures, Stronger Cyclones this “Ber” Months – PAGASA”.  Retrieved on September 3, 2015 from “El Niño could be Strongest in Modern History – US Scientists”. Retrieved on September 3, 2015 from

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