Is El Nino, the 'Bad Boy' of Weather, Back?

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Global cocoa prices have rallied to 2-1/2-year highs on worries El Nino could return in 2014, while other agricultural commodity markets could also be hit by the specter of the weather anomaly. [caption id="attachment_100157" align="alignleft" width="300"] The 'bad boy' of all weather phenomena is feared to make a comeback this year. All over the world, vital crops are expected to take a hit from the excessive heat or flooding that El Nino would bring. (Photo from whataretheywaitingfor.com)[/caption] El Nino - a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific - affects wind patterns and can trigger both floods and drought in different parts of the globe, curbing food supply. The worst El Nino on record in 1997/98 was blamed for massive flooding along China's Yangtze river that killed more than 1,500 people. El Nino means "boy" in Spanish and was first used by anchovy fishermen in Ecuador and Peru in the 19th century. Below are some of the key commodities that could be affected by its return. GRAINS, OILSEEDS, LIVESTOCK El Nino could bring dry weather to Australia, which is already struggling with a drought that has forced ranchers in the world's third-biggest beef exporter to cull cows, raising fears of a global beef shortage. El Nino could also curb wheat, sugar and cotton production in the country. The Philippines' weather bureau already expects rainfall to be "way below" normal by April in most parts of the country, including rice-growing provinces in the Central Luzon region and sugar plantations in the Visayas provinces. El Nino could worsen that. Previous El Nino episodes caused severe dry spells in the archipelago affecting vast tracts of farmland. A rice shortfall due to typhoons and drought connected to El Nino in 2010 prompted record imports of the national staple. An El Nino episode usually results in below-average rainfall in main palm oil producers Indonesia and Malaysia, cutting yields and pushing up global prices. It could also hurt crops in Thailand, one of the world's largest rice exporters, potentially worsening drought conditions usually seen in March-April. El Nino would bring milder-than-normal temperatures to the major crop production areas of the U.S. Midwest. Iowa and Minnesota would benefit from the event's tendency for wetter-than-normal summers as the western Corn Belt continues to recover from a drought. …