An El Nino watch has been issued by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, warning of the possible development of the weather-altering event that can bring rain to California and South America and raise winter temperatures in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest.
There’s a 52 percent chance that the Pacific Ocean will warm enough to trigger an El Nino late this summer or in early fall, said Michelle L’Heureux, a climate scientist at the Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
"We have increased our probabilities, not a whole lot, but just enough that we feel we need to start drawing attention to the situation," L’Heureux said in an interview. "There are still dominoes that have to fall here. This is not a guarantee, but certainly we’re issuing this watch so folks have a heads- up."
Rubber, sugar, coffee, and natural gas are among the commodities that can fluctuate because of an El Nino, which usually occurs every three to five years and can last months. The phenomenon often touches off warmer winters across the northern U.S., heavier rains from southern Brazil to Argentina and drier conditions across southeast Asia and Indonesia. It also can lead to a calmer Atlantic hurricane season and a stormier winter in the U.S. South.
An El Nino in 1982-83 caused $8.1 billion in damage worldwide and prompted efforts to better monitor the ocean warming, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
"On the precipitation side of it, you can have a more active winter storm track coming into California, and if you get a strong mode then you get a real good storm track coming across the southern U.S., too," said Joel Widenor, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.
California is currently in the grips of a drought that has left reservoirs dry.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology noted the warming trend in the Pacific last month. An El Nino means less rain across eastern Australia through June to November, the bureau said.
The last El Nino occurred in 2009 to 2010, and since then the other two phases of the cycle, a cooling called La Nina and a period of neutral conditions, have held sway, the climate center said.