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Drought hit Panama Canal further restricts maximum ship depth

A bulk carrier transits the Cocoli Locks at the Panama Canal, on the outskirts of Panama City, Panama April 19, 2023. REUTERS/Aris Martinez/File Photo

End of El Niño Could Bring Relief for Panama Canal Water Crisis

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 4986
February 8, 2024

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an end to El Niño conditions by April-June 2024, with a 79% probability. The shift to ENSO-neutral conditions will likely be followed by the development of La Niña weather patterns between June and August 2024, with a 55% chance.

Throughout January 2024, equatorial Pacific Ocean waters maintained above-average temperatures, but with a slight reduction in the east-central Pacific region. Atmospheric anomalies also lessened, with rainfall near average around Indonesia. These changes indicate a weakening El Niño, with historical patterns suggesting a likely transition to La Niña conditions, although the timing remains uncertain.

The predicted weather changes could provide relief for the Panama Canal water crisis, as La Niña weather patterns historically result in above-average rainfall in Panama.

This year’s strong El Niño has led to one of the driest years on record in Panama, forcing the Panama Canal Authority to limit the waterway’s capacity through transit and draft restrictions in an effort to conserve water. However, a canal official said this week that the Authority plans to maintain the current 24 daily transits through the end of this year’s dry season in April, marking a reversal from previous plans to further reduce the number of daily transits to 18.

The future of Canal operations hinges on the arrival of the rainy season in May. If rain comes as expected, the Panama Canal Authority hopes to return to the normal rate of 36 transits per day. If not, further reductions in daily transits or maximum drafts might be required.

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