Already Huge, El Nino
Continues To Grow
Submitted by Byron Weeks
Progressive satellite images depict the effects of El Nino in the equatorial Pacific Ocean
September 16, 1997 Web posted at: 2:05 p.m. EDT (1805 GMT)
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- El NiÒo is anything but little. Signs tracked by satellites in space show that the globally disruptive weather phenomenon could well live up to its stormy billing. For one thing, its mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean has grown to 1 and 1/2 times the size of the continental United States. And other data mean the southwestern states could well be pounded with winter storms.
In May, when scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena announced that satellite images showed a brewing El NiÒo, the warm mass was two-thirds its current size.
Worldwide weather experts said 1997-98 could bring the worst El NiÒo in 150 years.
"As the satellite has mapped El NiÒo across the Pacific, what we've seen continually throughout the summer and into September now is that early indications actually have persisted and intensified," said Bill Patzert, a research oceanographer with the TOPEX-Poseidon project at JPL.
The TOPEX-Poseidon satellite looks at sea height. Because water expands as it heats up, the higher the sea, the warmer the water. The satellite bounces radar signals off the ocean's surface to measure the precise distance from the satellite.
The cyclical weather phenomenon occurs when westward-blowing trade winds weaken, allowing a mass of warm water normally located off Australia to drive eastward to western South America. The unusually warm water acts on jet stream patterns, altering weather worldwide.
El NiÒo got its name from the Spanish words for baby Jesus because the pool usually arrives around Christmas.
Strong storms for southwest U.S. possible
In another sign of rough weather to come, water vapor measurements from another satellite are providing signs that southwestern states could get pounded this winter with storms crossing the Pacific from Hawaii.
An instrument called the Microwave Limb Sounder aboard the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is detecting "an unusually large buildup of water vapor in the atmosphere" about 8 miles up, which can create the intense winter storms, said William Read, a JPL researcher.
That's the most vapor seen since an El NiÒo of 1991-92, he said.
This year's El NiÒo is shaping up to be at least as strong as one that devastated many parts of the world in 1982-83, bringing destructive storms to California's coast, droughts to Australia and parts of Latin America and typhoons to Polynesia.
"For many countries, the El NiÒo has been here all summer," Patzert said. Chile, Peru and Ecuador have seen extreme weather due to high sea levels, while Indonesia and the Philippines are going through severe drought, he said.
Secondary signs of an El NiÒo are appearing off North America with warm-water fish migrating north this summer and the fueling of Hurricane Linda, the strongest-ever eastern Pacific hurricane, off Mexico last weekend.
Copyright 1997 The Associated Press.
September 24, 1997 Web posted at: 1:37 p.m. EDT (1337 GMT)
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Hundreds of Malaysian firefighters arrived in neighboring Indonesia Wednesday to help battle the massive brush fires that have sent a health-threatening haze across six countries.
An official on the Indonesian island of Sumatra said the 1,040 firefighters were rushed to three provinces there.
Malaysian C-130 aircraft also were to be used in what is known as cloud seeding, an attempt to induce rain to help clear the air. But at least some of the aircraft were grounded by the dense haze.
The Ministry of the Environment said Wednesday that the latest satellite imagery showed more than 50 hot spots, mainly in eastern and southern Sumatra and Kalimantan on Borneo.
Azwar Anas, coordinating minister for people's welfare, told reporters that the fire and haze crisis was a national disaster.
Many of the bush fires have been blamed on forestry companies, plantations and small farmers using slash-and-burn techniques to clear the land.
A forestry expert said there were growing fears that huge tracts of peat underlying the rain forests could catch fire -- resulting in a much more serious situation.
"If you get tens of thousands of tons of peat burning per hectare, it adds a whole new dimension," said Jeffrey Sayer, director-general of the Center for International Forestry Research at Bogor, near Jakarta.
There were already reports of peat catching fire, but the size of the problem was not yet known. Peat fires in some parts of the world are known to have burned for hundreds of years.
In the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas the Air Pollutant Index (API) remained at about 150 on Wednesday. But in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state on Borneo, the API was still well above the hazardous mark, at 651.
The authorities in Kuching declared an emergency Friday, and many people heeded the government's advice and stayed indoors. By Wednesday, however, many were going about their business, although many wore masks, residents said.
The emergency does not involve a curfew, but schools, most factories and offices remained closed.
Environmental organizations in Malaysia -- which is affected along with Singapore, Brunei, the southern Philippines and southern Thailand -- accused the government of not doing enough.
Health Department director Shukor Mohamed Noor said 15,000 Malaysians, most of them children and elderly, had been treated for haze-related illnesses.
The U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur said Wednesday that it was evacuating family members of diplomats on a voluntary basis to escape the smog.
The Canadian embassy was sending its staff for a week's leave in Australia on a rotating basis to give them a break from the haze.
Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa and Reuters contributed to this report.
Copyright c1997 Copyright c1997 The Associated Press
MIAMI (September 16, 1997 11:15 a.m. EDT) -- Biologists are investigating a mysterious ailment that is killing reef-dwelling fish off the shore of southeastern Florida and the Keys, "The Miami Herald" reported Tuesday.
Scientists suspect the culprit could be a parasite or natural toxin, perhaps from poisonous algae, the newspaper said.
Similar fish kills have been reported as far away as Venezuela, said Jan Landsberg, research administrator at the state Department of Environmental Protection Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg.
Thousands of tropical fish have been found covered with lesions or coated with a blotchy white slime, dive boat captains and tropical fish collectors said.
"It appears to be a white glaze and it wipes out the slime coat, a protective coating fish have," said Scott Hutchinson, a collector from Little Torch Key. "It just devours the tails, the fins. They just disintegrate."
"They're weakened so they get the gamut of parasites and bacteria," said Landsberg.
State officials say the 30 or 40 scattered incidents involved from a few fish to thousands, affecting 20 or 30 species, including angelfish, parrotfish and triggerfish.
The Department of Environmental Protection laboratory is testing samples of fish tissue and water, sediment and algae from areas where the dead fish have been found.
23 September 1997 Web posted at: 21:54 SAT, Johannesburg time (19:54 GMT)
BLANTYRE, Sept 23 (Reuter) - Malawi's biggest river, which supplies the country's hydro-electric power plant and major industrial city, is shrinking and may dry up entirely as a result of falling water levels in Africa's third largest lake, experts said on Tuesday.
Richard Watts, professor of hydrology at the University of Malawi, said the Shire River was already very shallow and a drop of one metre (three feet) as forecast for Lake Malawi, its main feeder, could gradually dry the river up.
"The danger is that the Shire River will get critically low, and Malawi's electricity depends on this river," Watts told Reuters.
Malawi's entire hydro-electric power supply relies on water from the Shire River. Blantyre, the country's major industrial city, also gets its water supply from the Shire River.
The larger part of the Sugar Corporation of Malawi (SUCOMA)'s sugar plantations on the lower Shire in southern Malawi also rely on sprinkler irrigation water supplied by the Shire River.
Hydrologists say the level of Lake Malawi has been dropping over the past five years and will drop to about 473 metres above sea level by October this year.
The lake's water level fell to 469.9 metres at the beginning of the century, which led to the complete drying up of the Shire River.
Watts said that unless the shallow strip between the Shire and Lake Malawi was dredged to increase its depth or large pumps were installed to pump water into the river, hydro-electric schemes would be seriously affected.
The problem was made worse by damage, caused by soil erosion, to ESCOM (Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi) equipment, he said.
Experts from the British Institute of Hydrology who recently conducted a study on Lake Malawi also warned that problems could occur if the water level dipped too low.
"The possibility of a return to historically low levels is of great concern to hydrologists and engineers, particularly in relation to the maintenance and planning of future hydro-power developments," the institute said in a report.
Raynold Duncan, chief executive of ESCOM, said contingency plans were being made to avert power cuts.
He said ESCOM planned to build a wall to control the flow of water in the Shire River, and studies were under way to explore the use of coal in power generation.
ESCOM was also discussing importing power from the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique, he added.
Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited.
Copyright c1997 Copyright c1997 The Associated Press
BEIJING (September 23, 1997 3:15 p.m. EDT) -- North Koreans, facing their third grim harvest in as many years, are too malnourished and too low on medicine to survive hunger and disease this winter, an aid worker said Tuesday.
People are stretching rations as far as they can, said Kathi Zellweger of the Caritas relief agency. In one county, a local mill stores bags of dried grass that have been turned into a powder to add to the thin rice and corn gruel most people live on.
"The resistance of the people is low. They have no medicine, little food. And the next year, if there is no water, we will have a major catastrophe," said Zellweger, who returned Tuesday after a week in famine-stricken North Korea.
Drought has so damaged crops that the crucial fall harvest likely will be less than half the 4.5 million tons of grain North Korea needs to feed its 24 million people, Zellweger said.
The shortfall is far worse than last year's, meaning North Korea's food supply will give out in April at the latest and force the secretive, communist country to rely on international aid for at least another year.
Two years of flooding, followed by last summer's drought, ruined an economy already weakened by chronic mismanagement.
Despite the crisis, aid workers have seen little evidence that the Stalinist political order is breaking down. Kim Jong Il, son of the revolutionary leader Kim Il Sung, is expected to become head of the ruling Workers' Party later next month.
A health ministry official told Zellweger that people are dying because there is no medicine. Tuberculosis, diarrhea and infectious diseases will spread without immediate aid from abroad.
Aid is making a difference. Children in nurseries looked less malnourished to Zellweger than they did in July, when she last visited and many children were too frail to stand on their stick-like limbs.
The World Food Program found 17 percent of children in North Korean nurseries and kindergartens malnourished. Administrators say children are dying of hunger.
Caritas delivered a 2,400-ton shipment of lentils, fertilizers and other food to North Korea on Thursday, part of the $8 million in aid the group has sent this year.
Without aid, prospects for survival are bleak. The long, harsh winter is coming. Fuel is scarce, and Zellweger said the drought has left water supplies low.
"Drought is the worst natural disaster you can have. You can do nothing but wait for the water," she said.

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