07 June 2023, AU: The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has issued an El Nino alert, raising the chances of drought conditions for the nation’s populous east states that are centres for coal and gas production.
The BoM’s announcement on 6 June indicates a 70pc chance of the El Nino weather trend forming in 2023, roughly three times the usual risk, saying that central and eastern Pacific sea surface temperatures have warmed to thresholds associated with the weather pattern. The previous outlook predicted a 50pc El Nino probability it could form this year.
The 2022-23 period saw the third consecutive La Nina pattern for Australia, which results in wetter than average weather for east Australia, disrupting many coal and gas operations. La Nina leads to drier seasons for Western Australia, often reducing rainfall and boosting production for the Pilbara iron ore mining region.
The forecast will likely reduce weather-related supply disruptions for the Asia-Pacific seaborne coal market, which affected prices as recently as January.
The BoM previously announced a drier and warmer June-August winter was likely to affect most of Australia, with a 60-80pc chance of lower rainfall and higher maximum temperatures than average. Scientists added the Indian Ocean dipole, which can enhance El Nino’s drying effect, is currently in a neutral phase but models suggest it could swing to positive this winter, raising the chances of lower winter and spring rainfall.
Australia’s last El Nino weather pattern beginning in 2015-16 contributed to a devastating drought in east Australia that lasted until early 2020, crippling the domestic fertiliser market and leading to severe bush fires that disrupted major coal rail lines and caused major power outages.
The south of Australia, which typically receives most of its rain during the cooler mid-year period, has recorded a 10-20pc reduction in April-October rainfall in recent decades.
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