March 27, 2017 / 3:00 PM / 6 months ago

South African weather forecaster sees increased El Nino risk

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The prospects of an El Nino weather pattern forming in the next few months has risen significantly, the South African Weather Service said on Monday.

El Nino usually heralds dry weather in southern Africa. Last year it was seen as the main cause of a drought that hit crop production, fuelling inflation and crimping economic growth.

“The public is advised to keep track of its developments,” the weather service said about the El Nino in a monthly forecast, which looks five months ahead.

South Africa has partly recovered from the previous El Nino. Farmers are expected to harvest 84 percent more maize this season as yields have been boosted by increased rains, a Reuters survey of five traders and analysts showed on Friday.

The government’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) is seen pegging the harvest at 14.35 million tonnes, when it gives its forecast on Tuesday, against 7.78 million tonnes last year.

The last El Nino faded in May of 2016 and if it were to return as early as July, as some forecasts suggest, it would be the first time it reformed so quickly since the mid-1960s.

El Nino is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years, with global consequences. In Africa it often brings excessive rains to the east while the southern cone gets parched.

Aid agencies have warned that its return could be catastrophic for areas such as southern Madagascar, which has been experiencing chronic food shortages.

Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Susan Fenton

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