El Niño could resurface this year, affecting rainfall in the country, private weather forecaster Skymet has said.
Skymet said that climate models from across the world suggested a shift in weather conditions from mid-January, that could lead to the resurfacing of El Niño — a weather phenomenon caused when warm water from the western Pacific Ocean flows east. Globally, it rains where the water is warm. If the Pacific warms up, the precipitation shifts in that direction, weakening monsoon currents in other parts of the world.
As against predictions made in December 2016 that India would have witnessed either normal or above normal rains in 2017, the current prediction indicates a rise in sea surface temperatures and if the trend sustains, it could lead to a weak monsoon this year.
El Niño had caused deficit monsoon in 2002, 2004, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2015. The deficiency also led to droughts in various parts of the country especially in 2015. However, the weather phenomenon had died down in 2016, resulting in normal rainfall last year. El Niño is Spanish for child, and the weather phenomena usually begins around Christmas.
According to Skymet Weather, El Niño has once again started showing signs of resurfacing in the coming months. El Niño is generally followed by La Niña — cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, which is opposite to El Niño.
“In December, weather models suggested that weak La Nina conditions will continue till mid-2017 and by that logic, India would either witness a normal or above normal monsoon,” said Jatin Singh, chief executive officer, Skymet. “However, weather models took a U-turn by mid-January, indicating a rise in sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and a likely increase over the next six months.”
Skymet plotted various international models and observed the change over the last 10 days. “The data indicates that there is a strong consensus that La Nina is not going to last and it seems El Niño is going to resurface,” said Singh. “While it is too soon to say whether we will have below normal monsoon yet, we need to consider the impact of such a phenomenon.”
Experts said that if El Niño has occurred in a mild form so early, it is likely to occur again this year. However, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) - difference in temperatures over the Arabian Sea, compared to the Bay of Bengal – could dramatically change, leading to a normal monsoon.
“We have to carefully observe weather models in the coming months as the situation could become worrisome but for the IOD, it is too early to tell, as it might play a decisive role for the monsoon this year,” said Biswajit Mukhopadhyay, former additional director, India Meteorological Department.
The first forecast by various weather agencies this year’s monsoon will be issued in April.
What you need to know about El Niño’s relations with droughts in India
• Since 1871, El Niño caused 8 prominent droughts in India
• Recent droughts occurred in 2002, 2009, 2014 and 2015
• Low rainfall during an El Niño year severely affects crop production
• According to the World Meteorological Organisation, in 135 years from 1880 to 2015, about 90% of all El Niño years have led to below normal rainfall and 65% has led to droughts.
Climate Change impact
“A January signal for El Niño is a half decent signal and if it perpetuates itself in the coming months, we need to be careful,” said Jatin Singh, chief executive officer, Skymet. “We need to look at climate change as the single biggest security concern. We should be the champions of the all climate summits and actively move towards a larger reduction in carbon emissions.”