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The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said it saw unprecedented signs pointing to a looming La Nina, a phenomenon that originates off the western coast of South America but can disrupt weather patterns in many parts of the globe.
In a press release, the Geneva-based agency said temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific had been between 0.5 and 1.0 C (0.9 and 1.8 F) below normal since the start of the 2006.
"Combined with broader tropical Pacific ocean and atmosphere conditions, this is consistent with the early stages of a basin-wide La Nina event," it said.
"(...) It is unprecedented in the historical record for a La Nina of substantial intensity or duration to develop so early in the year."
Under La Nina, the sea-surface temperature in the central and eastern tropical Pacific falls below normal.
This typically brings far dryer weather to the southwestern United States, Florida and western Latin America and above-average rainfall to Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
But there can also be a knock-on much further afield, with an increase to monsoon rainfall in South Asia, unusual coolness in tropical West Africa, Southeast Africa, Japan and the Korean peninsula.
La Nina usually lasts nine to 12 months, although "some episodes may persist for as long as two years," the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says on its website.
The WMO sounded a note of caution.
The buildup of this La Nina was so exceptionally swift and intense that it was impossible at the moment to infer what the impact would be, and how long the phenomenon would last, it warned.
"Most models and expert interpretations favour the event dissipating quite rapidly over the next three to six months," the UN's weather agency said.
"Nonetheless, neither a continuation of La Nina beyond mid-year, nor the development of El Nino in the second half of 2006, can be ruled out as possible outcomes from the current prevailing situation."