Expert: Looming El Niño similar to 1997 drought

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014


A METEOROLOGICAL expert likened the upcoming El Niño to the long drought in 1997 whose effects were felt across the world.

Josefino Bascug, Ph.D., a meteorological expert and environmental consultant for Misamis Oriental, said Monday that the 1997 dry spell affected 16 regions and its effects lasted until September 1998, damaging the country’s agricultural sector at P8.46 billion.

Bascug sees this as a pattern since El Niño happened in 1982 to 1983. A report e-mailed by Science Philippines to Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro on Saturday quoted a Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) official as saying that El Niño will last nine months until the first quarter of 2015.

However, the phenomenon will bring violent typhoons and cyclones with it, because there have been current observations in the Pacific that hotter temperatures have risen. This will cause more evaporation and condensation that will bring more rains in the Central Pacific, the report added.

Strong tropical cyclones

“El Niño doesn't mean just drought; it could bring strong tropical cyclones,” said Dr. Landrico Dalida, deputy director for operations of Pagasa, as quoted by the Science Philippines report.

“Westerly winds will get stronger because of the effect of El Niño and typhoons normally tend to shift northward, toward Northern Luzon,” Dalido said in an interview.

“The Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly in the Central Equatorial and Eastern Pacific has been observed at .4 for over three months now, since January to April 2014. It is approaching the threshold value of 0.5 degrees Celsius of Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly. By June, it will hit .5 degrees celsius, and that will be the onset of El Niño,” Science Philippines quoted Dalida.

Abnormal weather pattern

“El Niño is an abnormal weather pattern caused by the warming of the Pacific Ocean. Yes, it will bring rains, typhoons, even. But based on my readings, it will be just similar to the 1997-1998 phenomenon where typhoon entries in the country [will cause the drought to cease although temporarily],” Bascug said.

He added that Soccsksargen would be the greatest affected region in the country.

In the span of nine months, Bascug predicted that the most affected sector would, again, be agriculture. Forest fires are also forecasted during the El Niño period.

Indicator

With the frequent rains that Cagayan de Oro City is experiencing now, he said it is one indicator that El Niño is approaching.

The weather will transition to El Niño in the middle of the year, said Pagasa’s Thelma Cinco, head of the state weather bureau’s Impact Assessment and Application Section, Climatology and Agrometreology Division, adding a “fully developed” El Niño is highly possible by December this year.

In the Philippines, El Niño brings dry weather and drought, while La Niña means more rains, typhoons and floods.

“The termination of the northeast monsoon, particularly during the last week of March signaled the start of warm and humid conditions in the country,” Cinco said.

“When there is too much heat during the day, then there is too much evaporation happening that will be accumulated in the clouds. But we experience only scattering of rainfall these days. But it doesn’t mean that there will be no El Niño,” Bascug said.

Bascug explained that the long span of the phenomenon is just "a climate cycle of the earth," but was just abrupt because of the large amount of gas emissions that was recorded in April of this year.

People today blame climate change of the abnormalities going on. Bascug said it is just a contributor of the climate cycle.

Normal

"In a human lifetime, we get to experience one to three catastrophes and it is normal," he said.

During the El Niño, Bascug's prime advice to the public is to conserve water and electricity.

"When there is drought, in a hydro-powered island like Mindanao, water level will likely decrease. Electricity consumption should be less. Water should also be conserved. Stay indoors as possible," Bascug said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 20, 2014.

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