Against a background of an intensifying El Niño event, the Pacific Islands Climate Outlook Forum (PICOF) held its inaugural session and issued a detailed seasonal forecast to help preparedness in the water, disaster management, health, fisheries and other affected sectors.
A strong El Niño is currently in place, with wide impacts across the Pacific Islands region, which is very vulnerable to weather and climate extremes. El Niño will continue to have a significant influence on the climate and ocean in most parts of the Pacific Islands region for the remainder of 2015 and much of 2016, according to a statement issued by PICOF, which took place 15-16 October in Suva, Fiji, at the University of the South Pacific.
Historically, El Niño has caused reduced rainfall in the southwest Pacific (from southern Papua New Guinea southeast to the southern Cook Islands) and enhanced rainfall in the central and eastern Pacific (e.g. Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tokelau and Nauru). But it also affects the number of tropical cyclones and their preferred tracks, so that there is a risk of extreme rainfall events even where drier than normal conditions are forecast.
PICOF said the risk of typhoons was above normal for most parts of the Pacific islands region, with the exception of the Coral Sea.
Marine and water impacts
El Niño events have also been associated with an increased risk of coral bleaching and changes in tuna catch. The Forum said that coral bleaching was already occurring and was expected to expand across the central Pacific during the rest of the year. “The current bleaching event is likely to result in disease and death of corals through 2016 and into early 2017,” it said.
“The unfolding El Niño event has the potential for significant water-related impacts for many communities across the region – with likely conditions varying according to location and local circumstances,” the Forum said.
Across the Pacific, National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, disaster management officers, water departments and civil society groups like the Red Cross are actively identifying water-related risks and help in community preparedness and response.
For the health sector, water and food shortages are the main challenge, leading to malnutrition and diarrheal disease. The World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Office is preparing for a potential increase in vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and chickungunya in the coming months.
Funding from Environment Canada supported the Pacific Islands Climate Outlook Forum, which also included a training component and a special session for water managers. More than 40 participants from around 20 countries and territories attended, including representatives of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs), government authorities, non-governmental organizations, regional and international organizations.
Individual countries in the region, including Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, have also been issuing national climate outlooks, giving information on anticipated rainfall and temperatures in view of the developing El Niño event.
WMO is promoting the provision and use of climate services like seasonal outlooks as part of the Global Framework for Climate Services. Particular emphasis is being given to Small Island Developing States which are highly vulnerable to weather and climate extremes.
The Caribbean Regional Climate Outlook Forum (CARICOF) will take place late November, also with a focus on El Niño. With WMO encouragement, the Pacific and Caribbean regions have been sharing experience and expertise to boost capacity.