13 May 2015

Scientists debate El Nino likelihood

2:16 pm on 13 May 2015

Climate scientists are at odds over whether New Zealand will suffer an El Nino this year.

Sheep flocking to water in drought stricken paddocks on a farm at Wairarapa east of Masterton.

Sheep flock to water in a dry paddock on a farm in Wairarapa. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology yesterday announced a substantial El Nino event had begun.

During an El Nino, the west coast is wet, the east coast is dry and it's cold everywhere. Those conditions make it ripe for drought.

Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick said it would take about a month to see just how severe it would get.

"Australia feels El Ninos possibly more strongly than just about any other country but New Zealand certainly feels the effects as well. What normally happens for New Zealand is the kind of weather we've had this week with strong winds and storms and things."

The impact of dry conditions on unirrigated land, south of Timaru.

A medium-scale drought classification has already been issued in parts of the South Island and is likely to remain until August or September. Photo: Supplied

But scientists at government research agency NIWA aren't so sure.

NIWA principal climate scientist Brett Mullan did not believe there was enough evidence to support Australia's claim.

"Our view is it's maybe a little bit premature to call it more than a weak event; it's certainly premature to call it a strong event at this stage."

But Dr Mullan said NIWA believed there was an 80 percent chance of an El Nino event developing.

Drought continues in South Island

Nathan Guy

Nathan Guy Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Meanwhile, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has said farmers on the east coast of the South Island are still suffering the effects of drought.

Mr Guy said it was particularly bad in North Canterbury and especially in Cheviot, which missed most of the recent rain in the area.

Mr Guy said it was likely the medium-scale drought classification would remain until August or September, depending on conditions over autumn.

He said soil moisture remained well below average and there were concerns about the availability of winter stock feed.

The minister said farmers should talk to their accountants if they need help or flexibility with making tax payments, and should revise feed budgets now, as winter feed may be limited.

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