Get ready for El Nino season

El Nino has been officially declared, and with the impending summer another usually unusual season is expected for farmers.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd (Niwa) declared the official arrival of El Nino late last month, a weather pattern that usually causes dryness in the east and more rain in the west, with conditions expected to last for the duration of the summer.

Officials warned that in an El Nino pattern, the regions hardest hit by the rain and humidity through the previous three years of La Niña, would have the opposite weather system.

Environment Southland (ES) Science Strategy & Investigations chief scientist Karen Wilson said the effects of an El Nino summer in Southland generally included warmer temperatures and higher rainfall, increasing the likelihood of higher river flows and more frequent high-flow events.

"These potentially lead to higher sediment loads but a lower likelihood of algal blooms. Wetland health would stand to benefit from a wetter El Nino summer, helping to retain water through an otherwise dry period.

"A wetter summer also decreases the chance of water shortages, seen in Southland in recent summers, which cause extra stress for businesses and landowners, and generates extensive work for Environment Southland staff."

The water shortage that occurred in areas of Southland last summer highlighted future considerations, including earlier assessment of risk, the importance of communication with stakeholders, and the earlier involvement of territorial authorities.

As with other high-flow events, debriefs would be held following the flooding and high flows in September to discuss aspects of the response that went well, where improvements could be made, and how to implement those improvements.

Last summer, Southland farmers saw a record-breaking drought that led to irrigation bans being put in place to conserve water.

Farmer and ES councillor Jon Pemberton was one of those farmers affected.

He said given the predictions, he was hoping that this summer would at least allow for a holiday.

"It’s been the opposite the last few years — with rainy holidays, and feeding out and drought at home."

Despite the fairly wet winter, he said he was grateful for the recent rainfall for pasture growth.

He said farmers were getting used to weather patterns of extremes, experiencing both flooding and droughts over the past three years.

"Weather patterns, climate change, whatever you call it, we’ve certainly had some challenges."

Mrs Wilson said during an El Nino summer, farmers needed to be aware of the levels of effluent in pond storage, as frequent rain events would keep the ponds full, while also being mindful of cultivation practices.