How El Niño Could Impact Your Grocery Bill

By: James Flippin · May 10, 2023 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

What’s El Niño?

For all the readers out there who aren’t farmers or atmospheric scientists, El Niño is an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon occurring over the equatorial tropical Pacific every 3 to 5 years. El Niño can last between 2 to 7 years, shifting temperatures and rainfall patterns across the entire hemisphere in the process.

Although this large-scale weather event is naturally occurring, it can significantly disrupt production of key crops in the US, such as wheat. And since wheat is a staple crop used in many foods, a decreased yield could lead to increased prices for everything from bread to cereal to pasta.

When Will It Land?

If you’ve ever seen your weather app predict clear skies, only to look outside and watch rain clouds form, you know that predicting any weather event comes with a high degree of uncertainty. El Niño is no different. Scientists forecast it will start sometime between the upcoming summer and fall, but there’s no guarantee.

If El Niño does occur, it would likely create a drier and warmer climate throughout most of the Central US. This would not pose a major problem under normal circumstances, but the Central US is currently in the midst of a drought that’s already causing crop prices to spike. An ill-timed El Niño has the potential to make a bad situation worse.

Battening Down

If El Niño does worsen the drought in the Central US, it could lead to a spike in prices — not only for wheat, but staples like corn, soybeans, and meat as well. The timing would be far from ideal for American consumers, who are already dealing with high prices across the board due to months of sustained inflation.

In addition to the US, El Niño impacts weather patterns throughout Indonesia, South America, and Africa. Food prices are influenced by the health of the entire supply chain, meaning changes to production in other countries could pressure American grocery stores as well.

Then again, forecasting the weather is far from an exact science. So when it comes to prepping your household budget, you might treat this coming El Niño like news that it might rain next weekend. You don’t need to cancel all your plans prematurely. But you should still pack an umbrella and make a backup plan, just in case.

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