Australia is about to be hit by its first El Niño in four years, with warning that hotter, drier conditions in some parts of Australia could dramatically effect an already parched landscape.
El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) brings reduced rainfall through inland eastern Australia, including Murray-Darling Basin and also through parts of South Australia and across southern Western Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Manager of climate prediction services at the Bureau of Meteorology Andrew Watkins said the risks brought by an ENSO event is high, which also increases the risk of bushfires in NSW.
“We are going to have an El Niño-Southern Oscillation event with at least 70 per cent likelihood, possibly starting as early as July 2014,” Dr Watkins said.
He said the risk of “drier than normal” winter and spring will affect people in fire management, energy and farming.
“It is worth taking a note of that increase in risk,” Dr Watkins said.
Chairman of the custom committee representing farmers in Macalister Irrigation District Graeme Anderson, who is a dairy farmer as well, says it will have “dramatic effects” on the district if it is a severe event.
“Famers will face great difficulty because of huge cost plus feed situation.
“We don’t really start to grow much grass up until August so it depends how long it will last,” he said.
Mr Anderson said that because it is not clear when the El Niño event is set to occur, the farmers are not able to prepare.
“If we knew safely that it was going to change in September, we can say that we can cope with that fairly well,” Mr Graeme said.
“But if it continues in October and November then it’s going be very drastic for the farm production.
We are going to have an El Niño-Southern Oscillation event … possibly starting as early as July 2014
“I think we have to be very careful to make people aware of it and not to alarm them, he said.
“But it’s no good burying our head in the ground and pretend it’s not going to happen.”
Dr Watkins says that while all the research and international data points to a strong El Niño event, it cannot be measured.
“It’s difficult at the moment to gage exactly the strength of the event, it’s a little too early.
“The problem is that we get a range of impacts with El Niño’s no matter what strength,” Mr Watkin said.
“We have had weak events, like in 2006-7, that have actually had fairly strong impacts, with quite warm and particularly dry weather,” he said.
“But we have also had strong El Niño’s, like in 1997-8, which was considered a super El Niño, where the event was relatively wet in some parts.”
Mr Watkins said he didn’t want to give people a false sense of security but didn’t want to alarm them either.
So why do El Niño’s and El Niña’s occur?
Barry Brook, Director of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide, said El Niño’s was a medium term change in the climate typically called a ‘cyclic’, or a regularly occurring phenomenon.
“It changes the amount of heat that is flown into the Pacific Ocean and for the last few years Australia has been having a large amount of flooding and rainfall, which is been associated with a La Niña,” Prof Barry said.
However, he said before the La Niña there was intense El Nino’s that lead to the millennia drought in Australia that went on for eight years, leading to major heatwaves and bushfires.
“So it’s expected, if we get another large event, Australia will again suffer from drought conditions in its agricultural areas,” he said.
According to Professor Brook two things could relate to climate change.
1 – It could be that the El Niño and El Niña cycle is intensifying and there is some arguments that an increase build up of green house gases might cause a lock in of much intense and regular El Niño’s, which would be bad for Australia and India which depend on La Niña’s to get rainfall.
2 – If there is inducing things like heatwaves and bushfires in Australia, with an extra one or two degrees of temperature rise on top of El Niño, then that can have a disproportionate impact and could be really costly, damaging and difficult to live with.
Here is what you might expect in your region.
Northern Australia – later start to the monsoon
Queensland – reduced numbers of cyclones
Southern Australia – reduced rainfall, increased fire danger
And for snow lovers – not so good.