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El Niño begins decline

A farmer uses makeshift sprinklers to water cabbage in Daet, Camarines Norte yesterday. The World Meteorological Organization said the 2015-2016 El Niño weather phenomenon, one of the most powerful on record, has passed its peak and is expected to end towards the middle of the year. FRANCIS ELEVADO

MANILA, Philippines - The worst of one of the strongest dry spells on record is over, but its impact will be felt for many months to come, according to the UN weather agency.

In the Philippines, an El Niño-induced drought would still be felt across the country, especially in Mindanao in the summer season, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said.

PAGASA defines drought as three consecutive months of “way below normal” rainfall or about 60 percent reduction from average rainfall.

El Niño refers to the abnormal warming of the sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and is characterized by below normal rainfall.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the 2015-2016 El Niño has passed but its effects will linger for months.

The WMO said the El Niño is expected to fade away during the second quarter of 2016, adding that lessons learned from this climate phenomenon would help build global resilience to weather related hazards.

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“In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline, but we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come,” said WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas.

“We have just witnessed one of the most powerful ever El Niño events which caused extreme weather in countries on all continents and helped fuel record global heat in 2015,” he said, citing the drought and excess rainfall it had caused in different parts of the world.

Parts of South America and East Africa are still recovering from torrential rains and flooding. The economic and human toll from drought is becoming increasingly apparent in southern and the Horn of Africa, Central America and a number of other regions, he said.

Eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperatures were more than two degrees Celsius above average in late 2015, providing evidence that the 2015-16 El Niño was comparable with the devastating 1997-98 and 1982-83 cases.

However, “it is too early to establish conclusively whether it was the strongest,” he said.

Taalas gave assurance “the world is better prepared for this event than ever before, and scientific research conducted during this event will enhance understanding of El Niño and the inter-linkages between this phenomenon and human-induced climate change.”

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon is a result of the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. It has an irregular recurrence period of between two and seven years. Typically, El Niño peaks late in the calendar year or before Christmas, hence its name, Spanish for child Jesus.

In the Philippines, PAGASA said a total of 30 areas or 38 percent of the country is likely to experience drought by the end of March.

These are Rizal, Palawan and Catanduanes in Luzon; Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Oriental, Siquijor, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar and Samar in the Visayas; and Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Compostela Valley, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-tawi in Mindanao.

A total of 26 provinces are also likely to experience dry condition and dry spell by the end of March, the weather bureau said.

PAGASA said latest forecasts suggest that the El Niño phenomenon is expected to gradually weaken through March-April-May and return to neutral condition in the May-June-July period.

To date, El Niño’s damage to crops and other agriculture produce was pegged at P4.002 billion, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The corn sector recorded the biggest loss at 195,694 metric tons (MT) valued at P2.36 billion, followed by palay with 94,934 MT or P1.62-billion.

High-value crops and livestock, meanwhile, registered P21.63 million and P11,477 worth of damage, respectively.

Regions 2 and 12 suffered the most damage, the DA said. 


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