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PAGASA declares onset of El Niño

By Ashley Erika O. Jose, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINE state weather bureau on Tuesday declared the onset of El Niño which is expected to bring dry spells, droughts and stronger typhoons.

This as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also on Tuesday said the El Niño weather pattern emerged in the tropical Pacific for the first time in seven years.

“El Niño is already in the central equatorial Pacific. Our ocean is really getting warmer now. Although we are not going to feel the impact of this immediately, we are giving this advance information. This means that it is already here,” Esperanza O. Cayanan, officer-in-charge of Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said at a briefing on Tuesday.

El Niño is the warming of water surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, which is linked to extreme weather conditions such as typhoons and droughts.

Since the weather pattern is already underway, PAGASA raised the El Niño-Southern Oscillation status to El Niño advisory from El Niño alert.

“What we are experiencing right now is a weak El Niño but there are models showing a high probability of more than 56% chance that El Niño will be moderate to strong during the last quarter of this year,” Ana Liz S. Solis, chief of PAGASA’s climate monitoring and prediction section, said.

Ms. Solis said El Niño will likely persist until the first quarter of 2024 and shows signs of strengthening in the coming months.

Although fewer typhoons are expected during El Niño, Ms. Cayanan said it is possible that stronger typhoons would develop.

ING Bank N.V. Manila Senior Economist Nicholas Antonio T. Mapa said the El Nino will likely negatively impact economic growth, as agriculture production is expected to weaken.

“This is yet another reason why we believe the first quarter was the peak for the year and the likelihood that we’ll be seeing an acceleration in growth is much lower,”  Mr. Mapa said in a Viber message.

In the first quarter, the Philippine economy grew by 6.4%, slower than 8% a year ago. Agricultural production expanded by 2.1% in the first three months, a reversal from the  0.3% decline in the first quarter last year.

The government is targeting 6-7% growth this year.

Raul Q. Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers, said the impact of El Niño in the agriculture sector will depend on its length and severity.

Mr. Montemayor considers the October-to-November period as a good time for harvest of unmilled rice, but expects “limited replenishment of dams”, which could result in a decline in production.

“Good for palay harvest season but could result in limited replenishment of dams; possibility of slight decline in production and lower imports (due to rising international prices); in general, supply will be stable, but end-year stocks may be lower,” he said.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Executive Director Jayson H. Cainglet, urged the government to provide subsidies and compensation for farmers who will be affected by El Niño.

“In the era of extreme weather situations and changing weather patterns, it is most crucial that local producers are assured of public funds for indemnity (for both livestock and crops) and full insurance coverage that will compensate them for their losses and put them back on their feet to again produce the country’s food needs,” Mr. Cainglet said.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) expects the water level in Angat Dam to fall below the minimum operating level in the coming days if there is no rain.

As of 6 a.m. on Tuesday, the Angat Dam declined to 181.57 meters from its previous level of 181.93 meters, and just slightly higher than its 180-meter minimum operating level.

“Possible (to reach below 180 level) if there is no rain in the watershed. We are still at the operational level. When elevation reaches 180, priority is domestic supply,” Leonor C. Cleofas,  administrator of MWSS, said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld.

Patrick James B. Dizon, head of the MWSS Angat/Ipo operations management division, said that the MWSS has already instructed its concessionaires to fast-track its water augmentation measures.

“Based on the Angat Dam Operation Protocol, if the reservoir elevation reaches 180 meters, the priority will be the domestic supply for Metro Manila.  Since we are also preparing for the El Niño,  we also need to manage the existing water that we have in the reservoir so that we could minimize the impact during the onset of El Niño,” Mr. Dizon said in a Viber message.

The world’s hottest year on record, 2016, coincided with a strong El Niño — though experts say climate change has fueled extreme temperatures even in years without the phenomenon.

But that record could soon be broken, according to WMO.

The organization said in May that there was a strong likelihood that at least one of the next five years, and the five-year period as a whole, would be the warmest on record due to El Niño and anthropogenic global warming.

“To tell you whether it be this year or next year is difficult,” Wilfran Moufouma Okia, head of Regional Climate Prediction Service at WMO, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.

“What we know is that throughout the next five years, we are likely to have one of the warmest years on record.”

During El Niño, winds blowing west along the equator slow down, and warm water is pushed east, creating warmer surface ocean temperatures.

The phenomenon occurs on average every two to seven years, and can last nine to 12 months, according to the WMO.

It is typically associated with increased rainfall in parts of southern South America, the southern United States, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia.

In the past, it has caused severe droughts in Australia, Indonesia, parts of southern Asia, Central America and northern South America. — with Reuters

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