NEW YORK, New York (Reuters) -- El Nino, the dreaded weather anomaly which has killed hundreds and spawned disasters across the Asia-Pacific region over the years, could possibly develop by late 2004, the Climate Prediction Center of the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said.
In a monthly report devoted to monitoring El Nino which was issued late Thursday, the Center said sea surface temperatures have risen in the central Pacific Ocean and may "indicate the possible early stages of a warm episode."
The Center predicted on its web site that "El Nino conditions are expected to develop during the next three months."
There is about a 50 percent chance that weather patterns will meet NOAA's definitions for an El Nino during June and August of 2004.
"Approximately half of the statistical and coupled model forecasts indicate near neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific through the end of 2004," the Center reported. "The remaining forecasts indicate El Nino conditions will develop within the next 3-6 months."
A 'Kelvin' wave pushing warm waters eastward has been observed, contributing to "an increase in the subsurface temperature anomalies in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (Ocean)."
Warming sea temperatures and changes in prevailing winds can raise the height of sea level several inches which may indicate an impending El Nino.
El Nino is a weather phenomenon which leads to an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, recurring roughly once every three years.
The anomaly was first noticed by Latin American anchovy fishermen in the 19th century and was named in honor of the Christ child because it would take place around the year-end Christmas holiday season.
Severe El Ninos, as happened in 1997/98, would cause searing drought in Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia while spawning rampant flooding in Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia. Another Nino in 2002/03 caused the worst drought in Australia in a century.
The warming of Pacific Ocean waters can cause floods and drought as far as South Africa and trigger severe winter storms in California.
El Nino killed hundreds of people in 1997/98 and caused billions of dollars in damages. Before that, another El Nino in 1977/78 likewise killed hundreds and caused several hundred million dollars in damages.
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