SYDNEY (Reuters) - The 2015-16 El Nino weather event, one of the three strongest in the past 50 years, has peaked in recent weeks and will likely return to “ENSO Neutral” by the second quarter of this year, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said on Tuesday.
The El Nino phenomenon is driven by warm surface water in the eastern Pacific Ocean and is associated with extreme droughts, storms and floods. “ENSO Neutral” periods are marked by ocean temperatures, tropical rainfall patterns and atmospheric winds near the long-term average.
“A number of El Nino–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) indicators suggest that the 2015–16 El Nino has peaked in recent weeks,” the BOM said in a statement.
“Climate models suggest the 2015–16 El Nino will decline during the coming months, with a return to ENSO neutral likely during the second quarter of 2016.”
The agency said that based on data since 1900, some 50 percent of El Ninos have been followed by a neutral year, while 40 percent have been followed by a La Nina, marked by extensive cooling of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.
During the last major El Nino in 1997-98, heavy rains and flooding led to thousands of deaths, loss of crops and extensive damage to infrastructure in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. In Indonesia and Malaysia, drought linked to the weather event had hit palm oil production and pushed prices higher.
In November, the World Meteorological Organization said it expected the current El Nino to become one of the strongest on record, warning that the intensity of the event could be exacerbated by climate change.
While the U.N. weather agency did not predict when the El Nino would start to subside, it said the weather event normally reaches maximum strength between October and January, then persists through much of the first quarter.
Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Himani Sarkar