In New York a rival has been unveiled to Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prophet groundhog that predicts the pattern of winter on 2 February each year. In their eternal quest to be bigger and better, the New Yorkers brought an Asian elephant, "The Mighty King Tusk" to City Hall to find out whether it would see its shadow.
The logic was irrefutable: if groundhog Phil's predictions are based on whether or not he can see his shadow, then an elephant's should be more reliable because it has a bigger shadow. As the elephant stood calmly in the sunshine, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared: "The elephant has seen his shadow: we'll have six more weeks of winter."
Florida residents, however, needed neither Phil nor an elephant to remind them that spring is not round the corner. On Monday night a massive storm blew out of the Gulf of Mexico, flipping small aeroplanes over, uprooting trees and knocking out power supplies. Miami International Airport was briefly closed, at least one person has been killed and more than 300,000 have been left without power. Several others were injured by flying debris. Reports indicate that at least four tornadoes touched down in the Miami area and another was recorded near Fort Lauderdale. The Miami storms are said to be part of a larger system that has been hammering the entire state.
As Florida now braces itself for flooding, a warning comes from a conference in Thailand that this could be just the start of their problems. The Bangkok- based Asian Disaster Preparedness centre is hosting a conference on El Nino-related crises, and the prediction is for increased rainfall in the south-western United States and along the Pacific coasts of Peru and Ecuador. Drought is expected to continue over Indonesia and New Guinea, and to spread in Australia.
As the Bangkok meeting began, its warnings were already being confirmed in Indonesia with the return of the haze - a smoky fog caused by bush fires and the burning of dried-out stubble. In the middle of last year, the haze became a considerable health hazard. The pattern of fires, heavy rain, then fires again seems to be following that of the last major El Nino in 1982-83. And as one expert in Indonesia gloomily predicted: "In every El Nino for the last 120 years, the second phase has been worse than the first."Reuse content