Page 8

ceived 228 percent of normal precipitation (NOAA press release, June 8 1998, El Niño and Climate Change record temperature and precipitation), and by June 1998 the state was estimating $500 million in property damage (USA Today, June 12, 1998). In other regions of the United States, El Niño was blamed by some for an unusually high number of tornadoes, resulting in more than 120 deaths.

On the positive side, El Niño was credited for unusually warm winter weather in the Midwest and the Northeast that brought lower heating costs for consumers, downward pressure on oil prices, a longer construction season, decreased snow removal costs, and other benefits. On the East Coast, no hurricanes hit land in the 1997 hurricane season, which reduced disaster losses but increased fire risk in Florida. In the Southwest, where El Niño brought more winter rains, the increase in vegetation and wildflowers boosted tourism but increased allergies and concerns about diseases such as hantavirus.

In Latin America, as reported in The Economist (May 9, 1998), the costs attributed to El Niño were large. Drought caused water shortages, crop failures, and wildfires in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Colombia, Venezuela, and northeast Brazil. Floods drenched Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and fall hurricanes struck Mexico's Pacific coast. El Salvador's coffee production dropped by 30 percent, and the Colombian government reported a 7 percent drop in agricultural output because of drought. In northeast Brazil damages were estimated at $4 billion. Nine million Brazilians suffered from food shortages, and more than 48,000 square kilometers of forest burned in the state of Roraima. In drought-stricken Central America and Colombia, urban areas relying on hydropower had long power cuts. In Mexico, 400 people died when Hurricane Pauline hit Mexico's Pacific coast in October 1997 (Gobierno de Oaxaca, 1997); the hurricane's intensity was widely attributed to El Niño. Forest fires caused by drought due to El Niño burned about 400,000 hectares in Mexico in spring 1998 (Comision Nacional Forestal, 1998).

Although the Peruvian government, heeding the forecasts, had prepared for rains by rebuilding dikes and reinforcing bridges at a cost of $300 million, the floods destroyed more than 300 miles of roads and 30 bridges and displaced 300,000 people. In Ecuador, infrastructure damage from floods exceeded $800 million. In southern South America, the Paraná and other rivers overflowed, displacing thousands of people, killing cattle and destroying crops. The losses in Argentina were estimated at $3 billion. Fish catches declined, particularly in the Chilean and Peruvian anchovy and mackerel fisheries.

In Asia, El Niño was associated with drought and vast forest fires in Indonesia and with heat waves in India. In Australia, it was associated

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement