El Niño

El Niño

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center has issued a forecast that an El Niño Event is likely to occur.

El Niño is defined by prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures when compared with the average value. The accepted definition is a warming of at least 0.5°C (0.9°F) averaged over the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean. 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 only seven to nine months, it is classified as El Niño “conditions”; when it occurs for more than that period, it is classified as El Niño “episodes”.  Similarly, La Niña conditions and episodes are defined for cooling.

The first signs of an El Niño are:

• Rise in surface pressure over the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, and Australia.
• Fall in air pressure over Tahiti and the rest of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean.
• Trade winds in the south Pacific weaken or head east.
• Warm air rises near Peru, causing rain in the northern Peruvian deserts.
• Warm water spreads from the west Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the east Pacific. It takes the rain with it, causing extensive drought in the western Pacific and rainfall in the normally dry eastern Pacific.

El Niño’s warm rush of nutrient-poor water heated by its eastward passage in the Equatorial Current, replaces the cold, nutrient-rich surface water of the Humboldt Current. When El Niño conditions last for many months, extensive ocean warming and the reduction in easterly trade winds limits upwelling of cold nutrient-rich deep water, and its economic impact to local fishing for an international market can be serious. (From Wiki).

The El Niño event, currently predicted to arrive sometime in mid summer to early fall has been forecasted with a fairly significant degree of confidence.

So why does this matter?  If you are an importer of wood from SE Asia, you may have delays and cost increase because during this time there are increased numbers of forest fires in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippians.  If you are a buyer or seller of protein – vegetable or animal – prices generally go up during this time period as the ocean current upwelling that feeds the enormous shoals of anchovies of western coast of South America are driving further out and catches decline significantly. What if you are a lender to fishing fleets?  Does this increase your risk if the fleets are in Western South America?  If so is it time to hedge this risk?  What about increase your exposure in other locations where fishing – may not be better but will demand higher prices?

What effect does this have in the US?  Some places are cooler and wetter and some are warmer and dryer.  For example, where the Aegis Journal is located, Tempe, Arizona, it is projected to be cooler and wetter.  What is interesting is the more it rains the more auto accidents there are here.  If you are an insurance company do you take on some re-insurance, do you increase premiums?  If you are an auto body company, is it time to plan for expansion and more marketing during this time?

This is not an academic exercise.  This is a significant event that has impacts in certain places in the globe that are from moderate to severe.  By moderate to severe – we are not saying it is good or bad. The term moderate and severe is in the expected local climate’s temperatures and precipitation deviation from the norms.

If you wish to learn a bit more go and visit: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/elnino/impacts.html for up to date forecasting, comments and analysis.

The last two El Niño were in 1997-1998 with a severe event in 1982-1983.  In 1982-1983, the U.S. Gulf States and California received above normal rainfall. As winter approached, forecasters expected excessive rainfall to occur again. Indeed, portions of central and southern California suffered record-breaking rainfall amounts. Damage consisted not only of flooding, but mudslides that destroyed communities and caused many casualties. In Peru – it crashed the economy – wiping out the fishing industry, flooding the arable farmland, and collapsing many banks and financial institutions.

Read up and be prepared.

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