Caution on El Niño forecasts

NOT ALARMED: Wet conditions such as these captured in Victoria last spring are unlikely this year according to early climate forecasts.THE FARMING community has reacted with alarm to media reports on climate forecasters speculating that 2017 could see a return to the El Niño climate conditions that are correlated with drought conditions over much of Australia.

However, Agriculture Victoria climate agronomist Dale Grey has urged farmers not to press the panic button just yet.

“It is true that a number of climate models have raised the possibility of an El Niño developing in the Pacific, but it is also the case that this is the time of year when forecasters have the lowest amount of skill.”

“Looking at the situation now, you would have to see the trade winds around New Guinea go in reverse and a number of things fall into place, none of which are actually happening right now.”

“It is not to say that it could not happen, just that farmers should recognise the low skill in forecasts from this time of year.”

Mr Grey did acknowledge parts of the Pacific were considerably warmer than last year and said on the balance of evidence around at present it would be unlikely Australia will see another year at near La Niña levels.

“The skill is low, but with what we are seeing with all the models predicting either neutral or El Niño seasons, it does appear if the season is outside the norm it will be on the drier side.

“Having said that, it is not until May that the models start having reasonable skill.”

National Australia Bank (NAB) agribusiness agronomist Phin Ziebell said Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) long-term forecasts raised the possibility of a return to dry conditions.

“While it’s arguably too early to assess the coming season with any certainty, BOM models point to the emergence of El Niño in winter this year, which is associated with hotter and drier conditions in eastern and northern Australia.

“The BOM outlook is unfortunately very different to last year.”

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