National Geographic : 1999 Mar
wide, and ten feet deep, with occasional parched domes of sand and clay poking up eerily from the surface (page 92). In other areas the water simply pooled. The mosquitoes that thrived in these places caused rampant malaria-some 30,000 cases in the Piura region alone, three times the average for its 1.5 million residents. Peru was where it all began, but El Ninio's abnormal effects on the main components of climate-sunshine, temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, cloud formation, and ocean currents-changed weather patterns across the equatorial Pacific and in turn around the globe. Indonesia and surrounding regions suffered months of drought. Forest fires burned furiously in Sumatra, Borneo, and Malaysia, forcing drivers to use their headlights at noon. The haze trav eled thousands of miles to the west into the ordinarily sparkling air of the Maldive Islands, limiting visibility to half a mile at times. Temperatures reached 108°F in Mongolia; Kenya's rainfall was 40 inches above normal; central Europe suffered record flooding that killed 55 in Poland and 60 in the Czech Republic; and Madagascar was battered with monsoons and cyclones. In the U.S. mudslides and flash floods flattened communities from California to Mississippi, storms pounded the Gulf Coast, and tornadoes ripped Florida. By the time the debris settled and the collec tive misery was tallied, the devastation had in some respects exceeded even that of the El Ninio of 1982-83, which killed 2,000 worldwide and caused about 13 billion dollars in damage. And that's not the end of it. It is not uncom mon for an El Nifio winter to be followed by a La Nifia one-where climate patterns and worldwide effects are, for the most part, the opposite of those produced by El Ninio. Where there was flooding there is drought, where winter weather was abnormally mild, it turns abnormally harsh. La Ninas have followed El Nifios three times in the past 15 years-after the 1982-83 event and after those of 1986-87 and 1995. Signs of another La Nifia began to show up by June 1998. GOOD NEWS ... BAD NEWS Surfers were excited by prospects of monster El Nino waves, but California authorities feared beach erosion and built sand berms from Redondo Beach to Santa Barbara. By last March surf had washed the berms away, but the beach was intact.