Science & Environment

Scorching El Nino event could scupper England's World Cup

football Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption England are concerned about the impact of high temperatures during the World Cup in Brazil

England's bid for World Cup glory in Brazil this summer could be undone by a much-feared weather phenomenon.

Climate researchers at the University of Reading say there is a 60% chance of an El Nino event hitting the country.

The scientists say the complicated meteorological system is likely to cause extremely dry and sunny weather in June and July.

Teams from the British Isles have traditionally struggled to cope with these types of conditions.

El Nino is part of a cycle that occurs every two to five years and is characterised by a rise in sea-surface temperatures in central and eastern parts of the Pacific ocean. However, it has implications for the whole world.

The event sees large amounts of rain from Asia and Australia transported across to the west coast of the US and South America, often causing floods.

It can also trigger drought and heat waves, and it can wreak havoc on crops in some locations while boosting yields in others.

In Peru, for instance, the fishing industry suffers because of the change in sea temperatures but agricultural output rises.

According to the scientists at Reading, El Nino doesn't bode well for football players more used to the chill and damp of the UK.

"If it does occur, it would increase the risk of uncomfortably hot and dry conditions in Brazil during June and July," said Dr Nick Klingaman.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ireland's hopes melted in the 1994 World Cup as they floundered against Mexico in scorching temperatures

"Especially in the southern and eastern parts of the country, where England are playing their second and third group games.

The weather event is unlikely to make any difference to England's first game against Italy, which takes place in Manaus, in the tropical north of the country.

Speaking after the draw was made last December, coach Roy Hodgson was concerned about England playing their first game in the city.

"It's in the middle of the Amazonian jungle and the temperatures and humidity are much, much greater than any other place in the country," he said.

"I'm not certain Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia would have been jumping for joy if they were drawn there. I've never known Brazil, for example, play any of their home matches in Manaus."

Hot and bothered

England's two other group games will be played in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte, where they had hoped the temperatures would not be as severe.

Now researchers are saying that El Nino could lead to more heat, a reduction in cloud cover and more sunshine.

"If players and coaching staff were hoping for milder and more favourable conditions for their remaining matches, it looks more likely that they could be disappointed," said Dr Klingaman.

He estimates that temperatures around Rio could increase by around one degree C.

"While a one degree increase may seem insignificant, not all days will be affected equally," Dr Klingaman said.

"Extreme temperatures often change by much more than the monthly average. A one degree increase in the monthly average is equivalent to half of all days warming by two degrees, or one-third of all days warming by three degrees."

The predictions are based on observations from a system of ocean buoys, which can detect warming in the waters and help scientists hone their estimates about the likelihood of an event happening during the year.

But cuts in US and Japanese funding for the monitoring system may be having an impact. In the past two years, nearly half the buoys in the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean array have stopped working.

While the predictions of El Nino conditions have strengthened this year, there could still be some comfort for Roy Hodgson and his team.

In 2012, US scientists estimated that there was a 75% chance of the event happening. But El Nino never appeared.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

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