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El Nino Is On The Ropes

The massive disruptions caused by El Nino blamed for massive flooding in Africa, drought in Asia and heavy snow in the American West are coming to an end, the world's weather forecasters said Wednesday.

The World Meteorological Organization said El Nino "is in its dying stages," but conceded there was considerable uncertainty about just how much time it has left.

El Nino, a sporadic, disruptive weather phenomenon that set in with a vengeance in 1997, has spawned torrential rains in Peru, Ecuador and other regions of South America and has even been held responsible for temporarily lengthening the days on Earth by slowing its rotation.

Unlike previous episodes, which lingered for years, the current El Nino "is showing clear signs of weakening," said the World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency.

The organization's update said the four conditions typical of El Nino are becoming less pronounced. These include warming in the eastern Pacific Ocean, a shifting of precipitation from the western to the eastern Pacific, the slowing of trade winds and changes in sea level.

El Nino reverses normal weather patterns, resulting in drought in usually wet locales and flooding in dry areas.

It also helps trigger some man-made disasters. For example, fires set by farmers to clear land for planting in Indonesia in 1997 and this year swept through unusually dry forests, shrouding much of Southeast Asia in thick haze.

The meteorologists said it was difficult to predict just when this round of El Nino will come to an end.

"One model has conditions moving rapidly towards normal by mid-1998, and another has El Nino lingering on towards the end of the year," the report stated.

During a press conference, the organization's secretary-general Godwin Obasi of Nigeria, said he expected the former scenario, with El Nino tapering off by the end of this month.

That could be followed by the so-called La Nina, which could reverse some of the effects of the current disturbances and, in Southeast Asia, curb some of the forest fires.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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