They worry that authorities are not prepared for the floods, drought and death it may bring later this year.
This is the anxious question asked by weather experts quoted in a recent New Scientist article on the high probability of El Nino making a comeback to the Pacific region after its last major appearance in 1997 and 1998.
According to Axel Timmermann of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, the tropical climate system is primed for a big El Nino.
El Nino can unleash floods in the Americas and dry up South-East Asia and Australia in severe drought. It would begin with warm water near Indonesia spreading eastwards and rising to the surface of the Pacific, said New Scientist.
“The effects can be deadly. A big El Nino in 1997-98 killed 20,000 people and caused almost US$97 billion of damage.”
The magazine reported that “many leading scientists say the approaching El Nino looks similar in magnitude to the huge one that started in 1997, but many official forecasters say little about its potential strength.”
All meteorologists contacted by the magazine expect a big El Nino at the end of 2014.
Wenju Cai of CSIRO, Australia’s national research agency in Melbourne, said: “It looks like a big one. The more heat in the Pacific, the bigger the El Nino and right now, 150 metres below the surface, a ball of warm water is crossing the ocean. Its huge.”
Researchers worry that most forecasters were being too conservative.”One thing I hear over and over again is ‘We do not want to create a panic,’” says Timmermann. The fear is that food prices will rise steeply.
But Timmermann said it might be “better to have this reaction at an early stage, when farmers can still adapt”.
In concurring with Timmermann, Zafar Adeel of the United Nations University in Hamilton, Canada, said: “We already know what happens when a big El Nino hits. Thus vulnerable populations can be identified and emergency plans put in place.”
Experts fear that many authorities do not have adequate plans to face El Nino. According to New Scientist, they said America looked prepared but were not sure what would happen in Asia and Australia though India has invested in water storage in case of drought.
Zafar added that a big El Nino need not be a disaster but people must be prepared. “You need that trigger saying, ‘Yes, it’s going to be a big one,’” he said.
The arrival of El Nino is definitely bad news for Malaysians as a prolonged dry weather has caused a massive water shortage in the Klang Valley, resulting in water rationing which was only lifted last week. Dams in Selangor are still not running to their maximum capacity despite the arrival of the monsoon season.