Dark days loom for farmers as fears of El Nino rise

Windhoek: Dark clouds are gathering on the horizon for Namibian farmers already grappling with a prolonged drought as forecasters predict 2015 could become the hottest year on record.

In a worst-case scenario – after consecutive droughts – possibly the strongest ever El Nino heat waves predicted to hit parts of Southern Africa as from August and lasting through to 2016.

The strongest El Nino in recorded history could result in Namibia being battered by another six months of dry spells and below average rainfall this season, following similar patterns recorded in 2013 and since the end of 2014 and into the 2015 rainy season.

According to a report from the Administration for Oceanic and Atmospheric Monitoring, the majority of models forecasted this El Nino to top the record strength (2.3 degrees Celsius temperature anomaly) recorded during the El Nino in 1997.

For Namibian agricultural producers the alarming news comes in the wake of last week’s jolting conclusion by the Crop Harvest, Food Security and Drought Report, which warned that Namibian communal households would start running out of staple food this month, meaning government will be forced to import more than 209 million tonnes of cereals.

El Nino, an anomalous, yet periodic, warming of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, became firmly entrenched as of mid-July across a wide swathe of the equatorial Pacific basin from off the northwest coast of South America to the International Date Line.

Weekly sea-surface temperature anomalies in the so-called Nino 3.4 region, a strip of near-equatorial Pacific Ocean water scientists monitor for El Nino (and its anomalously cold opposite, La Nina), had climbed to 1.5 degrees Celsius above average in early July, the threshold for a strong El Nino if persisting for a three-month timeframe.

Furthermore, this El Nino is expected to continue intensifying into the fall or winter and may persist into spring 2016. Most El Nino’s last 9-12 months.

Long-range model forecasts all suggest the current El Nino is not only likely to be strong, but may eventually rival the strongest in modern records dating to 1950, with anomalies approaching or exceeding the 2.3 degrees Celsius observed in late 1997.

This may place the El Nino of 2015-2016 in a league with the “Super El Ninos” of 1997-1998 and 1982-1983. The latest available three-month mean sea-surface temperature anomalies in the Nino 3.4 region (April through June) were pacing 0.3 degrees Celsius warmer than the corresponding period in both 1997 and 1982.

El Nino is not the sole driver of the atmosphere at any time. Day-to-day variability in the weather pattern, including patterns of climate change and other factors that work together with El Nino to determine the overall weather experienced over the timeframe of a few months no two El Nino’s are exactly alike.