Ag Weather Forum

El Nino Dries Up Pacific Islands

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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The following article by Tom Di Liberto of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center has an interesting look at the other side of the coin regarding El Nino. Much of our discussion and analysis focuses on the impact of El Nino precipitation trends for the U.S. However, on the other side of the world, it's a different story -- and drought is a big issue right now.


"About the last thing you would expect to hear from an island surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean is that there is a shortage of water. Yet an El Nino-dominated atmosphere has led to widespread drought across Pacific Island Nations, causing states of emergency to be declared for Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

"A shifted Walker Circulation along the equator due to El Nino caused rainfall to fall much farther east than normal during the last several months. Koror, the capital of Palau, has seen a third of its normal rainfall since March 1 and the lowest recorded rainfall in 65 years since the start of 2016. It is in the midst of an 'extreme drought.' Since January, only about 8 inches of rain have fallen, nearly 22 inches below average. According to news reports, Palau President Tommy Remengesau has declared a state of emergency as the Ngerimel Dam, which supplies water to Koror, has dried up. The levels in the only other source of drinking water, the Ngerikiil River, are very low. The city is simply running out of water and water rationing has begun.

"The Federated States of Micronesia -- including the islands of Yap, Chuuk, and Pohnpei -- are facing similar extreme drought conditions as rainfall has been well below average over the last several months. Damaged crops and an increase in grass fires are expected. In the Marshall Islands, the drought has caused the president to declare a state of disaster with the entire Marshall Island chain in 'severe' or 'extreme drought.' Greatly reduced water supplies and extensive damage to food crops is likely.

Islands in the Pacific Ocean may be surrounded by water, but they rely on fresh rainwater for drinking and watering crops. Severe droughts associated with El Nino can negatively impact food security, public health, and the economy. During and after the historic 1997-1998 El Nino event, 'severe drought' similarly impacted islands across the western Pacific.

"'I know I can't blame everything on El Nino, but what about this time?'

"Yes, you certainly can. As mentioned previously, El Nino shifts around the Walker Circulation -- an equator-wide atmospheric circulation that normally means rising air and rainfall across the western Pacific and sinking air/dry conditions over the central and eastern Pacific. During El Nino, the rising air and subsequent rainfall follows the anomalously warm waters to the central and eastern Pacific like a kid running after an ice cream truck. This leaves normally wet areas, like the islands across the western Pacific, much drier than normal. This was exactly the case this year.



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