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2003 hot but no El Nino tipped: UN

Australia recently suffered its worst drought in a century.
Australia recently suffered its worst drought in a century.

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GENEVA, Switzerland (Reuters) -- A United Nations weather agency says there is no current sign of a return in 2004 of the El Nino/La Nina weather phenomenon that has brought devastation to many countries around the globe twice in the past five years.

The agency, the World Meteorological Organization, said the current outlook suggested the intermediate situation between the two that had prevailed since early this year after the fading of the last El Nino was likely to continue.

In its annual review of the past year, marked in much of Western Europe by unusually high temperatures and unseasonable cold in parts of East Asia, the UN agency said 2003 was only the third warmest since 1861, when proper records were first kept.

The average surface temperature around the world for the entire year was 57 Fahrenheit -- slightly lower than last year and 1 degree F down on the hottest year, 1998.

"Most of the indications are that we'll stay in a neutral condition for the foreseeable future," said Paul Llanso, chief of the agency's World Climate Data and Monitoring Division.

"So there's no forecast at this moment for a La Nina or an El Nino," he told a news conference.

The agency's incoming Director-General Michel Jarraud, who takes over in January, said the view as expressed by Llanso was coordinated with all the main weather monitoring centers around the world and constituted a "consensus forecast."

Llanso told Reuters that a "neutral condition" did not mean there would be no major storms or cyclones.

"There will still be flooding and drought around the world and other exceptional weather events, but climate variability will be pretty much average. If a country has bad storms in a normal year, it will continue to have them," he said.

An El Nino occurs when unusually warm surface water covers much of the Pacific because of changes in wind patterns -- bringing drought to countries like Australia and Indonesia and violent storms to the west coast of North and South America.

Mirror image

La Nina is its mirror image -- a phenomenon that leaves cold water dominating the Pacific. Both disrupt normal weather patterns far beyond the ocean's basin, bringing floods and unseasonable temperatures to Europe and inland North America.

The last two occurrences of El Nino, which is the more devastating of the two, were in 1997-1998 -- when hundreds of people were killed in storms along the coast of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia -- and in 2002-2003 when Australia had its worst drought in a century.

Last month, a senior Australian weather official in Queensland said there were signs of a weak El Nino returning early next year although the country's Bureau of Meteorology said the chances were only slight.

The U.S. National Weather Service said last week that although surface and subsurface temperatures in the equatorial region of the Pacific were warmer than average, they were still too low for an El Nino to be predicted.

World Meteorological Organization officials said El Nino could not be linked definitely to the highs, or to heavy monsoon rains in the northern summer in southern Asia, the unusual number of hurricanes in the Atlantic and extreme cold in parts of Russia and Mongolia.

According to figures released Tuesday by Swiss Re reinsurance group, natural and man-made disasters around the world this year caused damage worth $65 billion as well as taking 20,000 lives.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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