This type of restriction was also imposed due to the ‘super El Niño’ of 1998, inviting comparisons with what’s happening to El Niño this season. No doubt various claims will be made about the causes. BBC News reports:
The Panama Canal Authority says it will temporarily cut the size of ships allowed through because of drought caused by El Niño. From 8 September, the maximum draft of ships will be cut to 39ft (11.89m), which may affect up to 20% of traffic. A similar restriction was imposed for the same reason in 1998.
The authorities say a further cut in the draft could be imposed on 16 September if the situation does not improve.The authority has taken the action because water levels in the Gatun and Alhajuela lakes has reduced as a result of the El Niño weather phenomenon. The current draft limit is 39.5ft, which will be cut to 39ft on 8 September and then potentially to 38.5ft on 16 September. Shipping companies had been warned the cuts could be coming.
The Panama Canal celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, having seen more than a million ships pass through. Panama took control of the canal from the US in 2000, and has since been widely praised with the way it has handled the operation.Transit fees now bring in about $1bn (£645m) a year for the government.
Original report: Panama Canal to limit ship size due to drought – BBC News.
Definition: ‘El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (between approximately the International Date Line and 120°W), including off the Pacific coast of South America.’ – Wikipedia
Full description of El Niño graphic (above): This image of the Pacific Ocean was produced using sea surface height measurements taken by the U.S./French TOPEX/Poseidon satellite. The image shows sea surface height relative to normal ocean conditions on Dec. 1, 1997. In this image, the white and red areas indicate unusual patterns of heat storage; in the white areas, the sea surface is between 14 and 32 centimeters (6 to 13 inches) above normal; in the red areas, it’s about 10 centimeters (4 inches) above normal. The green areas indicate normal conditions, while purple (the western Pacific) means at least 18 centimeters (7 inches) below normal sea level. – NASA/JPL