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El Nino is on the way but taking it slowly

THE development of an El Nino weather pattern is increasing and at this stage may be a medium-strength event, but it could take months for it to be officially declared, Australia's weather bureau said.

"We are warming reasonably rapidly. The models tend to suggest something reasonably warm," said Andrew Watkins from Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, which issued its latest El Nino report yesterday.

"It doesn't look weak, but then again it doesn't look like it will be at the levels of the 1997/1998 event either," he said.

The last severe El Nino in 1998 killed over 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage to crops, infrastructure and mines in Australia and Asia. It struck in the middle of the Asian financial crisis which roiled financial markets.

India, one of the world's biggest producers and consumers of everything from sugar to soybeans, is already experiencing weaker annual monsoon rains.

Its faltering sugar crop is a prime reason why sugar prices are at their highest levels in three years.

An El Nino is also a major risk to wheat production in Australia, palm oil output in Indonesia and Malaysia, and rubber in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Output of palm oil and rubber has already fallen this year because of adverse weather.


"Conditions have reached a point that, should they persist at such levels through the remainder of the southern winter and into spring, 2009 will be considered an El Nino year," said the bureau's report entitled "Strong indicators of El Nino persist."

The bureau said there was "very little chance of the current development stalling or reversing."

The 2009 El Nino is developing as the world struggles to emerge from the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression of 1929.

El Nino, meaning "little boy" in Spanish, is driven by an abnormal warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean.

It is associated with drought conditions in parts of Australia and Asia and wetter-than-normal weather in parts of South America.

"Most of the indicators show an El Nino is developing in the Pacific. I would not say it is accelerating, but it's definitely increased," Watkins told Reuters.


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