Three of the four criteria for the development of El Niño have been met increasing chances of the warm weather event setting in this year, the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia, has said.

In its latest El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Outlook, the Bureau said a clear warming trend has been observed in the NINO3 or NINO3.4 regions of the Pacific Ocean during the past 3-6 months.

The development comes on the heels of market analysts saying that El Niño is the market’s main near-term risk. El Niño could affect the Indian monsoon and result in deficient rainfall, resulting in affecting the rural economy which is keeping the wheels of the country’s development moving.

India’s equities indicator Sensex, which rose to near-record levels last week, was down by at least 150 points mid-day on Tuesday.

Atmospheric response

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC), an arm of the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, said El Niño conditions, which are abnormal warming of the sea surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean leading to drought and deficient rainfall in Asia — particularly India, had developed by mid-June.

During this weekend, it said the previously ENSO-neutral conditions in the central-eastern equatorial Pacific had transitioned to warm El Niño-like conditions.

“The atmospheric response to the warmer-than-average tropical Pacific sea surface kicked in over the past month,” CPC said.

It said key oceanic and atmospheric variables are consistent with the onset of El Niño and signalled the onset of the warm phase of the ENSO.

When criteria were met in the past

The Australian Weather Bureau said trade winds have been weaker than average in the western or central equatorial Pacific Ocean during any two of the last three months, while the two-month average Southern Oscillation Index has been 0.7 or lower.

A majority of surveyed climate models show sustained warming to at least 0.8°C above average in the NINO3 or NINO3.4 regions of the Pacific Ocean by the late winter or spring.

“When El Niño alert criteria have been met in the past, an El Niño event has developed around 70 per cent of the time,” the Bureau said.

The CPC said an El Niño event has been forecast during the boreal summer (June-August), continuing into autumn and winter in almost all of the models in the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University, ENSO prediction.

Models’ indications

It said there is an 80 per cent chance of El Niño conditions developing by the end of August. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said central and eastern Pacific sea surface temperatures have warmed to El Niño thresholds. Models are indicating a high likelihood of further warming.

The CPC said, “The continuation of El Niño conditions is forecasted to be highly likely during the rest of 2023, and early 2024, with the chances of a return to ENSO-neutral conditions increasing to about 36 per cent by the end of the forecast period in February-April 2024.”

El Niño tends to develop during April-June and it tends to reach its peak strength during October-February. The weather event typically persists for 9-12 months, though occasionally persisting for up to two years. El Niño typically recurs every 2-7 years.

Deficient monsoon

Despite El Niño being forecast this year, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has said the south-west monsoon, the key to agricultural production, will be normal.

The south-west monsoon, which accounts for 76 per cent of the country’s total annual rainfall, set in late by a week this year. Data from IMD show that rainfall in the current monsoon is 33 per cent deficient as of June 19.