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El Nino Likely to Trigger Extreme Climate Events

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A devastating drought sweeps across Texas, turning rivers into sand, creeks into mud and lakes into large puddles, The bottom of the pond at the the Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area is nearly dried up in Amarillo, Texas.

The World Meteorological Organization says an El Nino is likely in the third quarter of 2014.

El Nino is a weather phenomenon characterized by unusually warm ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

The phenomenon, which recurs at two- to seven-year intervals, has a major impact on the climate around the world. It can also lead to extremes including droughts and heavy rainfall across the globe.

World Meteorological Organization Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch Director Maxx Dilley said sometimes these conditions can be quite extreme.

“You have parts of the world, which experience dryer than normal conditions as a tendency during El Nino years,” Dilley said. “You have other parts of the world, which tend to get wetter. You have parts of the world that tend to get hotter and parts that tend to get colder. So, the effects can vary depending on which region you pick.”

Compares to last El Nino

The World Meteorological Organization said it expects this year’s El Nino to reach the same levels of strength as the last El Nino from 2009 and 2010, which was the hottest year on record.

The 2009-10 El Nino also resulted in abnormally dry conditions over northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Drier than normal conditions also prevailed over southeastern Africa and northern Brazil.

It also triggered a lower than normal monsoon rainfall in India and wetter than normal conditions in tropical South America and at subtropical latitudes of North America.

The World Meteorological Organization forecast the El Nino to peak during the last quarter of this year and into early 2015. It said it cannot be sure how intense it will be, but expected an El Nino of moderate strength.

Dilley said the socio-economic impact on regions affected by these extreme climate events can be powerful.

“So, for example when you have a drought, one of the sectors, which is very often affected, is agriculture. It also can affect water supply and water supply could mean irrigation for agriculture or it could mean water into a reservoir for hydropower generation," Dilley said.

"You can have floods, of course. They affect infrastructure. They ... can flood housing. They can cut off transportation links, wash out roads, block bridges. ...," he added.

Warnings aid preparedness

These climate conditions, Dilley said, also can have serious health impacts, such as outbreaks of cholera and other water-borne diseases. It can also increase the incidence of malaria.

Dilley said a number of international organizations are using WMO advance El Nino warnings to make plans to blunt its impact.

For example, he noted the World Food Program is prepositioning food in areas that might be difficult to reach in extreme weather conditions.

WATCH: Related video report by VOA's Zlatica Hoke

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