It seems like the El Niño phenomenon, associated with drier conditions in southern Africa, is going to make another appearance in 2017, according to forecasts from the American Climate Prediction Centre.
The US government weather forecaster says there are increasing chances of El Niño developing during the southern hemisphere fall (March to May).
Its predictions show the odds for El Niño conditions are increasing towards the second half of 2017, with a 50 to 55% chance of the phenomenon occurring between July and December.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology also updated its El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Outlook status to El Niño Watch, saying the likelihood of El Niño occurring in 2017 is increasing.
According to the weather service this is because of recent changes to the tropical Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere, with the sea surface temperature in the eastern Pacific now warmer than average for the first time since June 2016.
In 2015/’16 an El Niño cycle led to famine in large parts of southern Africa and caused poor crop harvests, food shortages and high food prices. Countries also had to rely on international imports to satisfy local food demand.
Historical data from the US Department of Agriculture shows that El Niño conditions lead to below-average maize yields in South Africa during most years when El Niño conditions are recorded.
According to the South African Weather Service, El Niño is however not always associated with drought in South Africa, even though the cycle is associated with below normal rainfall. This is thanks to sufficient ground water and soil moisture which is carried over from previous seasons.