Chinese meteorological experts are forecasting that an El Nino weather pattern widely predicted to manifest this year could start to affect the country as early as next month, and may hurt domestic rice and corn production.
El Nino, a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, can disrupt weather across the entire ocean region. It has previously triggered flooding in China’s southern rice-growing regions and caused droughts in corn-producing areas of the north.
Hong Kong Observatory said last month that the weather anomaly could distort the territory’s weather by delaying the arrival of typhoons as well as increasing rainfall in the winter and spring.
“According to our forecasts, we are basically sure that El Nino will happen, and the key issue right now is how strong it will be,” said Ding Yihui, a climate change adviser to the China Meteorological Administration, according to a transcript of a meeting posted on the administration’s website.
Zheng Fei, a researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, estimated at the same meeting that the probability of an El Nino striking was more than 70 per cent for July and 80 per cent for August.
The forecasts from China are in line with those in Australia, the United States and Japan.
Last week, the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts gave an El Nino a 90 per cent chance of manifesting this year.
“Historic data showed that El Nino could have a big impact on corn crops in the north,” said Zheng Dawei, a professor at the China Agricultural University. He said droughts triggered by El Nino in 2009 reduced corn output in the north.
Dry weather has already begun in parts of northern China and could worsen in autumn, he said.
The country’s rice harvest could also be affected, said Zheng. An El Nino triggered the worst flooding along China’s Yangtze River in half a century in 1998, killing thousands as swollen rivers burst their banks and destroyed crops.
Ding said an El Nino could reduce global grain output by between 2 and 2.4 per cent, but the damage could be more devastating if the weather pattern persisted for two or three years.
He said droughts triggered by El Nino events in 1972 had inflicted severe water shortages on several Chinese cities.
Ding forecast the El Nino’s strength could peak around the end of this year, when temperatures were likely to rise above average. Some experts were estimating temperatures around two to four degrees Celsius higher than normal, he added.
Additional reporting by Guardian / staff reporter