El Nino 2009/10 weather pattern ends -Australia weather bureau

SYDNEY Wed May 12, 2010 2:25pm IST

SYDNEY May 12 (Reuters) - The 2009/10 El Nino weather pattern that worsened Australia's drought, caused the failure of last year's monsoon in India sending food prices soaring and threatened Southeast Asia's palm oil and rubber crops is over.

"The El Nino event of 2009/10 has concluded, with all the major indicators now below El Nino thresholds," Australia's weather bureau said on Wednesday in its latest El Nino report.

El Nino, or little boy in Spanish, is driven by an abnormal warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean, and can create havoc in weather patterns across the Asia-Pacific region.

The last severe El Nino in 1998 killed more than 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damages to crops, infrastructure and mines in Australia and Asia.

Widespread protests against rising food prices in India as a result of the failure of last year's June-September monsoon has seen the government reluctant to export grain even though the country has a huge wheat surplus.

The Indian government has forecast a normal monsoon this year, but analysts remain sceptical. Any sign of a poor monsoon would push up domestic and global prices of grains, sugar, oilseeds and lentils. It would also add to pressure on the central bank to further tighten policy.

A current severe dry spell across a wide swathe of Southeast Asia threatens to curb output of palm oil and rubber, while the weakest rainfall in more than a decade may cripple rice planting in top exporters Thailand and Vietnam.

The El Nino in a region that is the world's biggest producer of palm oil, rice and rubber and a key supplier of coffee and cocoa has brought hotter weather to farms and plantations, drying out trees and sapping yields.

Australia, the world's fourth-largest wheat exporter, could harvest 22.6 million tonnes of the grain in 2010/11, say analysts, putting its forecast at the top of a range of estimates, after initially being hit by the El Nino.

LA NINA NOW EXPECTED

Australia's weather bureau said all El Nino indicators, Pacific sea surface temperatures, trade winds, the Southern Oscillation Index (which indicates El Nino strength) and cloudiness over the Pacific, have returned to neutral levels.

"The timing of the decline in the 2009/10 El Nino event has been fairly typical, with the event peaking over (the southern hemisphere) summer then decaying during autumn," said the bureau.

(Click here for Australian Bureau of Meteorology latest El Nino report: www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/).

The bureau said that there was now a 40 percent chance of a La Nina developing. La Nina translates from Spanish as "the girl-child" and is the opposite of El Nino.

La Nina events are associated with increased probability of wetter conditions in the western Pacific, particularly in eastern Australia and Asia, and drier conditions in South America.

The bureau said current conditions below the surface of the Pacific Ocean show large volumes of cooler than normal water, indicating that further cooling of the surface is likely.

"The majority of climate model predictions suggest the tropical Pacific will cool further during the coming months, with the possible development of La Nina conditions by late (southern hemisphere) winter or spring," it said. (Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Ed Lane)

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