El Niño is on the wane, but its effects are still being felt


The El Niño weather phenomenon, which has brought devastating floods and droughts to countries around the world, blighting food crops, fanning forest fires and spreading animal and human disease, appears to be on the wane.

Once fertile earth shattered by drought, one of El Niño's most feared effects

According to FAO's Agrometeorologist, Michele Bernardi, the warm water currents off the coast of Peru that lie at the heart of El Niño are now cooling and the phenomenon is entering a transitional phase. Sea surface temperature anomalies continued to decrease in many parts of the equatorial Pacific during April. However, this decrease primarily reflects the normal annual cycle in these temperatures.

The latest forecasts indicate that the warm oceanic conditions in the tropical Pacific - which are comparable to those observed during the 1982-83 El Niño - will continue through June 1998. Thereafter, during the following three to six months, a return toward normal conditions is indicated. According to Bernardi, "it is premature to announce that the "warm episode" (El Niño) will be followed by a "cold episode" (La Niña), as there is no direct correlation between the two." La Niña could reverse extreme weather trends in many countries, bringing floods to areas that have been stricken by dry spells and vice versa.

Meanwhile, the effects of the fading El Niño are still being felt and FAO has warned that the end may not yet be at hand. In a recently released special issue of Food Outlook, the Organization says that "a deterioration in prospects for 1998 crops cannot yet be ruled out, particularly in several southern hemisphere countries affected by the unpredictable El Niño-associated weather". Food Outlook also says that the rise in the number of countries facing food emergencies - from 31 at the end of 1997 to 38 now - is largely due to El Niño.

FAO is continuing to provide information and assistance to member countries during the current El Niño, giving advice in areas such as emergency preparedness, the use of drought-resistant crops and changes in cropping calendars, to help countries cope with abnormal weather conditions.

For more information on FAO's response to the current El Niño, click here.

3 June 1998

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