Getting Ready for El Nino

Dry Lake Bed, Lake OpuhaThe El Nino phenomenon was originally recognised by South American fisherman who noticed warmer waters in the Pacific, usually around the end of the year. They named it ‘El Nino’ – the Little Boy – after the tendency for the pattern to arrive around Christmas. As we approach the festive season, once again New Zealand is in the grip of a strong El Nino, one that is set to match that of 1997-8.

So what can those who work, live and depend on the land expect and how will it impact us?

Rise in Temperatures

It may not sound much, but an El Nino summer can raise ocean temperatures by an average of one degree. This in turn can mean significantly warmer land temperatures. As you’d expect, the heat can see stress for both crops and livestock. In fact, the only people involved in agriculture likely to be smiling this year are the grape growers as the warm temperatures should see a bumper crop of flavoursome fruit.

Secure stock water provision is going to be even more essential this summer. Check your pipelines, troughs and valves to ensure that the precious wet-stuff is getting to where you need it. Don’t forget to provide plenty of shade and shelter for your pets too.

It may also pay to get the sheep, angoras, llamas and alpacas into the sheds early for a pre-summer clip.

More Westerly Winds

It’s often thought that El Nino conditions mean a lack of rain, but really in New Zealand it just means drought is more likely for the North and East as the rolling westerlies will mean greater falls in the South and West of the country. In the East of the country, the foehn effect will see the Nor’West flow drive the temperatures up, whilst those in the rain shadow of the mountains may see a bit of spill over rain. Those in the headwaters of the braided rivers in the South Island could see some unsettled weather too. It could be a year where river levels in the high country could ebb and flow.

Those in the west can expect a good deal of rain too, as the warmer sea temperatures drive moist air onto the western side of the Main Divide.

Greater Fire Risk in Rural Areas

NZ BushfireA combination of high temperatures and Nor’Westers does not bode well for the rural fire signs to be heading towards the green. Expect the arrows to be pointing towards ‘extreme’ for much of the summer as the stronger winds and warmth create tinder box conditions. If you’re in a rural area, it may pay to review your fire plans. Don’t forget the summer of ’97-’98 saw wildfires in Australia and Indonesia.

Drought Conditions in the East

If it’s wet in the west, the east of the country is usually going to experience the opposite and this summer seems to be heading that way too. It’s already very dry in the east of the South Island, with parts of Otago, Canterbury and Marlborough already at February levels of dryness.

As the rainfall fades away, so too will stock numbers. It’s expected that 10% more cattle will be sent off to the works this summer. With lower stock numbers due to falling dairy prices, summer could see a significant drop in numbers of the national herd.

Increase in diseases

As temperatures rise, bacteria seems to thrive. It’s expected that food poisoning cases will be up over 40% of what could be expected in a non-El Nino year. With greater susceptibility, it pays to keep an eye on your animal husbandry and make sure that no nasty bugs get the chance to take a hold.

Stock feed shortages

Pasture and supplementary feed is likely to be sparse this summer, so feed planning is going to be vitally important. Shortages could well go through into next winter as a dry autumn could seriously affect pasture growth, so now’s a time to estimate how much you’re going to need to see you through. Also consider how you could use other herbage, such as willow or tree Lucerne to help you get through.

It Pays to be Prepared

Whatever the weather throws as us, being prepared will go a long way to help you get through. RX Plastics can help with our range of stock water and feed storage tanks, plus we can also give you peace of mind with our fire fighting kits and automated irrigation solutions.

But most important of all, keep in touch with your neighbours, stock agents and vets to make sure you’re abreast of the latest developments or just for some friendly advice. You can also keep up to date on the latest advisories via the Ministry of Primary Industries website too.

Whilst some of the warnings heading our way are a bit dire, let’s not forget that warmer weather makes for better holidays, so enjoy the summer leisure time as much as you can.