by Maui Hermitanio
The country is bracing for a dry spell and lesser than usual rainfall as weather bureau Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) forecast that El Niño weather phenomenon would make its presence felt next month and may peak during the last quarter of 2014 and may last up to the first quarter of 2015.
PAGASA has been closely monitoring the oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the tropical Pacific regions that could lead to possible development of an El Niño. “A majority of climate models indicate that El Niño may develop this year. El Niño is characterized by unusually warm ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific (CEEP),” PAGASA said in a statement.
“Pagasa has already noted a significant increase in the sea surface temperature anomaly or SSTA from 0.2 to 0.4 degrees Celsius from April 21 to April 28, 2014. Because of this development and as climate models predict that this condition may persist for the next nine months.”
From January to April, the SSTTA has been observed to be at 0.4. By June, PAGASA said it is expected to be at 0.5. Pagasa is foreseeing the onset of El Niño in June that may peak during the last quarter of 2014 and may last up to the first quarter of 2015.
El Niño results in lengthy dry spells and disrupts the normal wet and dry season weather patterns. In the case of the Philippines, the summer season is from March to May. However, during El Niño, the dry season could extend up to the last weeks of June.
“El Niño could affect the normal rainfall pattern in the country generally resulting in reduced rainfall. Different parts of the country may experience varying rainfall impacts,” PAGASA added.
Global climatic chaos
The term El Niño or “the Christ Child” in Spanish — was originally used by fishermen to refer to the Pacific Ocean warm currents near the coasts of Peru and Ecuador that appeared periodically around Christmas time and lasted for a few months. Due to those currents, fish were much less abundant than usual.
El Niño is part of the El El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The cold part of this event is La Niña.
El Niño phenomenon is a temporary change in the climate of the Pacific Ocean. It is characterized by unusually warm ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific regions.
This weather anomaly occurs at irregular intervals of two to seven years and can last from nine months to two years. It tends to reach its maximum strength during December to February.
As early as February this year, Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground said upcoming change in Pacific Ocean bases favors the development of a moderate-to-strong El Niño.
The International Research for Climate Society, Earth Institute of Columbia University observed that during March to April, ENSO conditions moved from cool-neutral to warm-neutral. All of the ENSO prediction models indicate a warming trend, with neutral ENSO during northern spring 2014 transitioning to El Niño conditions by the middle of northern summer.
Meteorologists warned that this year’s El Niño could be a ‘big one’, with threats of climatic chaos such as floods, drought and severe storms.
More heat in the Pacific means a bigger El Niño. Experts have seen a band of warm water in the Pacific. “Right now, 150 metres below the surface, a ball of warm water is crossing that ocean and it’s huge,” said Wenju Cai of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
The Bureau of Meteorology of Australia said the probability El Niño happening again stands at 70 percent. This will be the first occurrence in Australia in over four years.
In the Philippines, we can expect to experience hotter and drier weather and reduced rainfall that could lead to droughts.
However, different parts of the country may experience varying impacts. PAGASA said “westerly winds will get stronger because of the effect of El Niño and typhoons normally tend to shift northwards, towards Northern Luzon.
Some of the most devastating typhoons occur during El Niño years, such as Typhoon Milenyo in 2006 and Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009.
In other parts of the world, threat of large amounts of rain and storms could lead to widespread flooding as the warm water carries rain from Asia and Australia and it over southern and eastern America. In Europe, the effects of El Niño are most felt during their winters which will become colder and drier.
Worst El Niño records
During the past forty years, ten major El Niño events have been recorded, the worst of occurred in 1997 to 1998. Prior to this, the El Niño event in 1982 to 1983 was the strongest. Some of the El Niño events have persisted more than one year.
The strong El Niño of 1997 to 1998 killed more than 20,000 people worldwide and caused US$100 billion in damage.
That year, in the Philippines, the estimated damage to agriculture reached more than P3 billion. Drought affected 68 percent of the country, compared to only 28 percent in 1972 and 16 percent in 1982.
The 1997-1998 El Niño also caused a decrease in the live coral cover nationwide by about 49 percent due to the coral bleaching event associated with the warming of sea surface.
Water conservation and vulnerability
The Department of Agriculture (DA) listed 44 provinces that are vulnerable to the effects of El Niño “for purposes of monitoring and crafting of possible interventions.”
Included in the “highly vulnerable” El Niño list are Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Cavite, Rizal, Occidental Mindoro, Palawan, Capiz, Iloilo and Negros Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Sarangani and South Cotabato and Zamboanga City.
The rest of the areas listed under “moderately vulnerable” are Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, ountain Province, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Romblon, Sorsogon, Aklan, Antique, Bohol, Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon and Davao Oriental and Davao City.