On alert for possible El Nino

PETALING JAYA: It is still too early to predict the probability of El Nino, its strength and its impact on the country, says the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia).

Its director-general Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said that based on the Climate Prediction Centre’s (CPC) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report on Jan 3, the probability of El Nino occurrence was around 49% from July to September.

“Most international climate models show that La Nina conditions have weakened, and with La Nina and ENSO-neutral having an equal chance of occurring with a 50% probability in January to March (ENSO stands for El Nino and the Southern Oscillation).

“The country usually experiences a dry season or receives relatively less rain during the southwest monsoon, which is around May to September.

“During this period, the wind usually blows consistently from the southwest with drier atmospheric conditions and low air humidity.

“This causes the lack of rain cloud formation during this monsoon period,” he said in a response to The Star recently.

MetMalaysia, he said, was still monitoring the expected dry weather this year and would inform the public should there be any new development.

Recently, Indonesia’s weather agency forecasted that the country was expected to face its driest weather since 2019 this year.

Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency said with less rain, there could be a risk of forest fires based on the last three-year trend.

MetMalaysia has advised to limit outdoor activities during dry and hot weather, avoid open burning and drink enough water to avoid dehydration.

Climatologist Prof Fredolin Tangang cautioned that the risk of flooding was still there, especially during the episode of cold surges.

“The current northeast monsoon is still active and is expected to last until the end of February or early March,” he said.

“The risk of extreme rainfall and flooding is high when the active centre of the Madden Julian Oscillation is also present over our region,” added Tangang, who is also Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s chairman of Earth Sciences and Environment Department.

At the same time, the current active La Nina event was also a contributing factor to increased rainfall and the higher likelihood of extreme rainfall, he added.

However, CPC’s forecast on Jan 3 showed La Nina to be rapidly declining and the probability of it remaining active during the period between March and May is merely just 10%.

Tangang also agreed with MetMalaysia’s forecast that El Nino was rising fast with all models predicting the warming of the Pacific Ocean by the middle of the year.

“The latest observed condition of the interior part of the tropical western Pacific Ocean indicates this to be warmer than usual, a precursor to the formation of El Nino by June or July.

“The likelihood of this El Nino to materialise may increase in the next one to two months.

“At this stage, however, the strength of this remains uncertain if it ever materialises.

“The wet conditions that we’re currently experiencing will flip into drier than normal conditions, especially during the southwest monsoon from June to August if El Nino were to occur,” he said.

Sumatra and Kalimantan, Tangang said, were expected to become much drier should the El Nino turn out to be of the extreme category like that of 1997-98 or 2015-16.

The risk of forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan causing transboundary haze would be greater from June to October during a strong El Nino, he said.

“Dry spells and drought will also increase in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak and in early next year if the condition in the Pacific Ocean evolves to become an El Nino condition.

“Authorities should monitor this condition and be prepared for any eventuality,” he said.

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