Drought in China adds pressure to world food prices

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:49 AM GMT on February 23, 2011

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The soil lies cracked and broken in China's Shangdong Province, thirsting for rains that will not come. China's key wheat producing region, lying just south of Beijing, has received just 12 millimeters (1/2 inch) of rain since September, according to the Chinese news service Xinhua. If no rains come during the remainder of February, it could become the worst drought in 200 years. The latest precipitation forecast from the GFS ensemble model predicts the possibility of rains of around 1/2 inch for Shandong Province early next week, but these rains would help only a little. A longer-range 2-week forecast from the operational GFS model shows little or no rain for the region from late next week well into March. Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) projects that spring in Eastern China has an enhanced probability of being dry, with only a 20% - 25% chance that the region will see above average precipitation, and a 40% - 45% chance of below average precipitation. So the great drought will likely continue, and China's ability to feed itself may be greatly challenged this year.


Figure 1. A dried cornfield in a mountainous area of Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, Jan. 18, 2011. Image credit: Xinhua/Zhu Zheng.


Figure 2. Drought conditions in China's Shandong Province this February have reached the "Severe" category. Image credit: Beijing Climate Center.

Impact on global food supplies and food prices
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the drought in north China seems to be putting pressure on wheat prices, which have been rising rapidly in the past few months. This has helped push global food prices to their highest levels since the FAO Food Price Index was created in 1990 (Figure 3.) China is the world's largest producer of wheat, and if they are forced to import large amounts of food due to continued drought, it could severely impact world food prices. However, the FAO's regional representative for Asia and the Pacific said in an interview with Reuters last month that the situation is not as severe as in 2008, when global food riots erupted. "In general, the supply/demand situation of food grains has become very tight at the moment but enough stocks means there is no cause for alarm," Konuma said. "We still maintain sufficient stocks, which is about 25 percent of annual production. As long as there are sufficient stocks, that means the world has enough food still to feed the people." However, he said that if food stocks continued to decline over the next few years, there would be cause for concern.

The record food global food prices have been partially driven by two other huge weather disasters, the Russian summer heat wave and drought of 2010, and the Australian floods of December - January 2011. Both Russia and Australia are major exporters of grain. Russia issued a ban last summer on grain exports because of their drought, which slashed the wheat harvest by 40% and damaged soils to such an extent that 10% of Russian wheat fields could not be planted this year. The Russian heat wave of 2010 is now estimated by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters to be the deadliest in human history, with 55,736 deaths. The Australian floods caused at least $1.7 billion in agricultural damage, reducing their wheat crop significantly. Fortunately, bumper crops were harvested in non-flooded areas of Australia, and the winter crop harvest in country was up 19% over the previous year's crop, and was the biggest since 2003 - 2004. Australia has been struggling with severe drought in recent years that caused more agricultural damage than the floods did.


Figure 3. The global price of food between 1990 - January 2011, as measured by the U.N.'s FAO Food Price Index. The FAO Food Price Index is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. It consists of the average of price indices for Cereals, Oils and Fats, Sugar, Dairy, and Meat, weighted by the average export shares of each group. Food prices between 2002 - 2004 are given a benchmark value of "100". Global food prices in January 2011 were the highest since the FAO Index was established in 1990. Image credit: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Drought outlook for Northern Hemisphere summer of 2011
The spike in global food prices this winter raises the concern that a severe drought in a major grain producing region in North America, Europe, or Asia this summer could severely impact grain supplies and food prices. Fortunately, with La Niña conditions over the Eastern Pacific weakening, and possibly abating by summer, the chances for such a drought are lower than they would have been if La Niña were to stay strong into the summer. The latest precipitation forecast from Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (Figure 4) shows few areas of drought concern for the coming Northern Hemisphere summer. However, our skill at predicting drought months in advance is limited. For example, IRI's February 2010 forecast of precipitation for the summer of 2010 did not highlight Russia as an area of possible concern for drought, and Russia ended up having one of its worst droughts in history. IRI did highlight the Amazon as a region likely to have below-average summer rains, though, and the Amazon ended up having a 100-year drought last summer.


Figure 4. Global precipitation forecast for June, July and August of 2011, made in February 2011. Only a few scattered regions of the globe are predicted to have above-average chances of drought (yellow colors.) These areas include the Northwest U.S., Southern Brazil, and Northwest China. Image credit: International Research Institute for Climate and Society

Commentary
The recent unrest in the Middle East, which has been attributed, in part, to high food prices, gives us a warning of the type of global unrest that might result in future years if the climate continues to warm as expected. A hotter climate means more severe droughts will occur. We can expect an increasing number of unprecedented heat waves and droughts like the 2010 Russian drought in coming decades. This will significantly increase the odds of a world food emergency far worse than the 2007 - 2008 global food crisis. When we also consider the world's expanding population and the possibility that peak oil will make fertilizers and agriculture much more expensive, we have the potential for a perfect storm of events aligning in the near future, with droughts made significantly worse by climate change contributing to events that will cause disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and war.

I will be doing another post on Thursday or Friday.

The New York Times' Andy Revkin in his Dot Earth Blog has a more in-depth look at the food and climate change issue that I recommend.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Neapolitan:

Well, with that single profound comment, you've proven conclusively that fracking is safe for one and all. In fact, it's probably not just safe, but actually good for the environment!

Thank you for setting us straight, twinc!

:-\


You are soooo strange. I didn't say that at all. You really need help in interpreting the English language.
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Quoting presslord:


Huh?
Um sarcastic.
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Quoting twincomanche:


There were people lighting their tap water long before fracking.

Well, with that single profound comment, you've proven conclusively that fracking is safe for one and all. In fact, it's probably not just safe, but actually good for the environment!

Thank you for setting us straight, twinc!

:-\
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13729
Quoting pottery:
Greeetings all.
An active Tropical Wave has just about completed it's passage through here during the past week.
Heavy rains with some areas flooded and minor landslides of mountain roads.
My cisterns are still overflowing, first time in 23 years so late in Feb.

Was in the Mountains yesterday and today. Had no guage so I put a straight-sided aluminum mug out in the rain yesterday at about 2 pm.
This morning at 7:30 it was overflowing. How long for, I dont know.
The inside depth of the mug is 4" !
I would guess that at least a foot of rain fell up there this week.

Looks like we will get some sunshine for the next week and beyond though....


mugs are for ale...not rainwater...you are fined $100.00
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A soaker eh,pottery?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129419
Greeetings all.
An active Tropical Wave has just about completed it's passage through here during the past week.
Heavy rains with some areas flooded and minor landslides of mountain roads.
My cisterns are still overflowing, first time in 23 years so late in Feb.

Was in the Mountains yesterday and today. Had no guage so I put a straight-sided aluminum mug out in the rain yesterday at about 2 pm.
This morning at 7:30 it was overflowing. How long for, I dont know.
The inside depth of the mug is 4" !
I would guess that at least a foot of rain fell up there this week.

Looks like we will get some sunshine for the next week and beyond though....
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Quoting Skyepony:
Too many clouds to see the launch from the south in Melbourne.


TRMM hurricane page hasn't updated in near a month though seen a few product data in the news to know it's not down.. today a failed test in the Indian ocean. Hope it's fixed soon.




I think the angry ones are the ones that can light their tap water a fire..

I was able to see about one degree of the shuttle's launch trajectory between two layers of clouds. Bummer. I will definitely drive up for each of the last two...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13729
Twas a fine day here,BC.Canadian wu friends arrived, watched the Launch.

Yakked and shared a few, er,..refreshments

O yeah, Parade tomorrow night.



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 427 Comments: 129419
Quoting washingtonian115:
Your not welcomed...


Huh?
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Quoting Dakster:
Cool Presslord...

TX for the update...
Your not welcomed...
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Quoting Skyepony:
Too many clouds to see the launch from the south in Melbourne.


TRMM hurricane page hasn't updated in near a month though seen a few product data in the news to know it's not down.. today a failed test in the Indian ocean. Hope it's fixed soon.




I think the angry ones are the ones that can light their tap water a fire..


There were people lighting their tap water long before fracking.
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Quoting Dakster:
washintonian - I am surprised Miami isn't number one on that list...


How about West Palm Beach? We have a lot of JA's for drivers up here.
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This event is definitely a lot less extreme due to what the winter has already done to the south, keeping the Gulf of Mexico held down to a low roar. The inflow out of the gulf is pretty cold, with all north gulf stations south of LA reporting temperatures under 70F. This could have been a lot worse if the gulf were as warm as it is supposed to be in a La Nina winter.



Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26698
Cool Presslord...

TX for the update...
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Gro.... I'm hungry.... could go for another Cuban pork sandwich from Miami...darn it....

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Quoting Dakster:
Hey presslord and floodman... Hope all is well in your neck of the woods!

Portlight gonna send supplies to Libya once the bloodshed stops? I know it isn't a weather catastrophe, but it still is a catastrophe.


ya never know what may come up...we sent a ton of medical equipment into Iraq after the US invasion...someday I may tell the story of the two CIA buffoons who showed up at my office one day as the result of that project...it was pretty comical...
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727. Skyepony (Mod)
Too many clouds to see the launch from the south in Melbourne.


TRMM hurricane page hasn't updated in near a month though seen a few product data in the news to know it's not down.. today a failed test in the Indian ocean. Hope it's fixed soon.


Quoting weatherneophyte:


:-)

Aren't you environmentalist types the angry ones. Everyone who disagrees with you is stupid, ignorant and uninformed.


I think the angry ones are the ones that can light their tap water a fire..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 208 Comments: 39074
Quoting Grothar:


Uniform and all???

"As you travel ask us." Yep. I was like the Texaco man man except for Standard....more like the Standard boy.
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Quoting NRAamy:
Gro.... why, you want to borrow it?

;)


Already have one, thank you. (How's Amy tonight?)
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washintonian - I am surprised Miami isn't number one on that list...
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Dak.... no kidding....

;)
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AMY!!!! Still got your fork? You may need it soon...
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Oh yeah,and for anyone visiting D.C we have one an award for the most rudest drivers.Way to go D.C(rolls eyes).So we even beat Los angelas,and New York city.
Damn won.
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Quoting presslord:


Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You remember when gasoline was still dinosaurs!!!!


Where do you think they got the idea for Fred Flintstone? :P
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Gro.... why, you want to borrow it?

;)
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Oh yeah,and for anyone visiting D.C we have one an award for the most rudest drivers.Way to go D.C(rolls eyes).So we even beat Los angelas,and New York city.
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Hey presslord and floodman... Hope all is well in your neck of the woods!

Portlight gonna send supplies to Libya once the bloodshed stops? I know it isn't a weather catastrophe, but it still is a catastrophe.
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Quoting twincomanche:


I used to be the guy doing all that stuff. It was my second job.


Uniform and all???
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
lower half of line is collapsing as a stronger line forms in front of it heads up eyes wide open


Yep....see that now...dang! Thanks
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<
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Quoting EYEStoSEA:


whatcha think....worst going north of I-20?
lower half of line is collapsing as a stronger line forms in front of it heads up eyes wide open
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2349 PORTAGEVILLE NEW MADRID MO 3643 8970 TORNADO REPORTED NEAR PORTAGEVILLE. VEHICLES BLOWN OFF INTERSTATE 55 FROM PORTAGEVILLE NORTH TO MARSTON.
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Quoting hurricanejunky:


Uh, Neophyte,
If you think there is nothing to the claim that fracking is causing serious environmental and health issues then you're seriously deluded or a corporate shill. Just because your one family farm has no issues means zilch. Talk about a parody...your last post was a great one!
Going back to pissed off mode


:-)

Aren't you environmentalist types the angry ones. Everyone who disagrees with you is stupid, ignorant and uninformed.
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<
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
ya i have been lurking guess you could say stealth mode


whatcha think....worst going north of I-20?
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Quoting EYEStoSEA:


About time u showed up!
ya i have been lurking guess you could say stealth mode
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<
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Those GOM waters will be warming up quite nicley this year with warmth returning to the south,and staying above average in some cases,so by June those gulf waters should be warm,and ready to "help" produce which in anyway isn't good.Also that increases tornado activity.And the spring forecast from WSI is bogus.I think we'll see a warm spring.CYL.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:



About time u showed up!
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<
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*snork!*

Quoting presslord:


Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You remember when gasoline was still dinosaurs!!!!
Member Since: March 26, 2006 Posts: 44 Comments: 1520
Quoting Grothar:


Yo, Flood! I remember when gasoline was 20 cents a gallon. They wiped your windshield, checked your oil and tire pressure and gave away sets of glasses. (And people were nice to each other) Guess things have changed a lot.


Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You remember when gasoline was still dinosaurs!!!!
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I remember my first Model T. My dad gave it to me as a gift when I changed my first work check. It was fun cranking that model. I was proud because it could produce 20 HP and reach 40-45 mph and gave me 18 miles per gallon. Not only that, the engine was capable of running on petrol, kerosene, or ethanol. But ethanol was prohibited....

My grandpa is still running around with his original model that he keeps, in the island of Antigua.. : )
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9882
Quoting Grothar:


Yo, Flood! I remember when gasoline was 20 cents a gallon. They wiped your windshield, checked your oil and tire pressure and gave away sets of glasses. (And people were nice to each other) Guess things have changed a lot.

Rudeness was so rare that when some guy was nasty to me the next time he came in for gas my boss went out and chewed him out and told him he'd better not hear of it again. I think I was making a buck ten a hour back then.
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Quoting Grothar:


Yo, Flood! I remember when gasoline was 20 cents a gallon. They wiped your windshield, checked your oil and tire pressure and gave away sets of glasses. (And people were nice to each other) Guess things have changed a lot.


I used to be the guy doing all that stuff. It was my second job.
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Not surprisingly, severe wind reports showing up at SPC. Hot springs to Shreveport/Texarkana area.



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Quoting Floodman:


You're kinda young, aren't you?


Yo, Flood! I remember when gasoline was 20 cents a gallon. They wiped your windshield, checked your oil and tire pressure and gave away sets of glasses. (And people were nice to each other) Guess things have changed a lot.
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A few more wind reports too.

Thats in the area of one of the tornado warnings.

So not just the odd lightening striking the house down scenic Butt road this time either Atmo.
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The convertible is rather enjoyable...finally. And it is rather windy with lots of warm and moist heading up to meet that front.

Public Information Statement as of 4:44 PM CST on February 24, 2011

...Multiple record high temperatures set today...

Here is a summary of the record high temperatures set
today...Thursday February 24 2011.

New Orleans International Airport set a record high today of 83
degrees which broke the old record of 81 set in 1982.

Slidell Airport set a record high today of 81 degrees which broke
the old record of 74 set in 2000.

Baton Rouge Airport set a record high today of 83 degrees which
broke the old record of 82 in 1944.

McComb Airport set a record high today of 81 degrees which broke
the old record of 80 set in 1980.

New Orleans Lakefront Airport set a record high today of 84
degrees which broke the old record of 81 in 2001.

Pascagoula set a record high today of 77 degrees which broke the
old record of 73 in 2003.

Gulfport set a record high today of 75 degrees which broke the old
record of 70 in 2001.

As a reminder...the length of record is rather short at
Slidell...Pascagoula and at Gulfport.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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