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Severe Weather Pattern Threatens Asia-Pacific Region

  • Phil Mercer

Climatologists are warning that an El Nino weather pattern, which can spark severe floods, forest fires and droughts, could develop in the coming weeks across the Asia-Pacific region.

An El Nino event occurs when water temperature in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean rises abnormally. The movement of warmer, moist air to the east leaves drier weather in the western Pacific.

The Climate Prediction Center in the United States has warned that after months of rising temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, the onset of an El Nino pattern was becoming more likely between now and August. The water is now half a degree warmer than average.

Researchers at Australia's Bureau of Meteorology agree that an El Nino event is likely. They say if recent trends in Pacific climate patterns persist, there is a strong chance that an El Nino pattern will emerge in the coming months.

Such conditions could be disastrous for farmers in Australia's drought-prone southeast who can expect little relief from years of below average rainfall.

The effects of such a shift in weather patterns would be felt across Southeast Asia.

Professor Matthew England, director of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales, says Indonesia would likely have drastically less rainfall.

"The effects on Indonesia are actually even stronger," he said. "If you look at how El Nino affects all the nations around the Pacific Rim, Australia is often thought of prominently in that regard. But Indonesia and Southeast Asia generally see much drier conditions during El Ninos. In past El Ninos we have seen some very severe forest fires in Indonesia."

The most devastating El Nino occurred in 1997. It caused widespread drought in Australia and Indonesia as well as floods in Peru and Ecuador.

An El Nino event can also bring wetter weather to parts of the United States and can affect the monsoon season in India.

In an El Nino year, there are typically more hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific and, conversely, fewer such storms in the Atlantic.

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