Climatologists say an El Nino weather pattern is developing, increasing the chances of further more drought and forest fires in Australia and Indonesia. Australia's weather bureau reports that the weather pattern could be bad news for the nation's farmers as the drier conditions arrive during harvest times.
An El Nino pattern takes place every two to seven years and is seen by scientists as part of a natural climate cycle.
It occurs when waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean heat up. The movement of moist, warmer air away to the east leads to drier conditions in the western Pacific, affecting much of the Asia-Pacific region.
In Australia, the eastern and most heavily populated parts of the continent are likely to see below average rainfall and increases in daytime temperatures, which would damage harvests.
Australia is the world's fourth-largest wheat exporter. There are concerns too that the output of palm oil and rubber in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as in Thailand, could be affected by dry conditions.
Andrew Watkins, a senior climatologist at Australia's Bureau of Meteorology says the signs suggest that an El Nino is on its way.
"We are seeing warmer than normal sea surface temperatures through the Pacific Ocean, both at the surface but also below the surface of the ocean, as well," he explained. "We are seeing changes in the trade winds and also changes in the cloudiness and typically what this brings over particularly, sort of, later winter and into spring is for drier than normal conditions through eastern Australia but also through parts of Asia, such as Indonesia and so on. You tend to get drier than normal conditions and the increased chance of forest fires and so on."
At this stage, climate scientists say this may be a medium-strength El Nino, but it could take months for it to be officially declared.
The last severe El Nino in 1997 and 1998 killed more than 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage to crops, infrastructure and mines in Australia and Asia. In parts of Asia, such as Hong Kong and southern China, it brought record rainfall that caused flooding.
An El Nino pattern can affect the monsoon in India, which is crucial to successful harvests, and can also bring wetter weather to parts of the United States.