From cut-price hotel rooms to replacement surf boards, the marketing of El Nino is under way in California. The predicted "mother of all storms" is turning into a fairy godmother for the ad-men.

In California, one man's disaster has always been another man's marketing opportunity, and if the disaster heralds its arrival long in advance, then so much the better. Nobody knows for sure what El Nino will bring to California, but everyone is aware that it may be the blockbuster weather event of all time. And the marketing men see that as their cue to move in.

San Luis Obispo County in central California is putting together a "Kick- El-Nino" promotion, offering some hotel rooms at half price from December to February, while the county tourism bureau has adopted the catch-phrase "El Nino-El Schmino" to promote rates that "will be the best thing for travellers this winter".

Barbecue stores have also taken precaution against a possible drop in demand caused by storms and flooding. One chain has taken out "Let El Nino Blow" adverts in newspapers, and reports "quite a good response" for gas-fired fireplace logs for barbecues. The construction industry has been doing predictably good business, preying on people's fears. One company offers an "El Nino Special" including roof repair, leak analysis and sandbagging. Their ad warns: "This winter, the anticipated conditions may impact your home in disastrous proportions."

On the other hand, you may, if El Nino strikes, just want to get the hell out of there. They why not have a "Ready for El Nino" oil change, wiper blades and brake job package all for $115 from SpeeDee Oil Change and Tuneup on Santa Monica Boulevard? This is one offer, however, which has not yet caught the public imagination. "We haven't really had as much response as we thought we would," said the office manager, Aurora Villasinora. "Maybe four people."

Instead of changing their oil, what Californians are doing, in the light of Al Gore's persistent warnings of potential disaster, is having "preparedness parties", at which they make plans to welcome El Nino and discuss roof- strengthening measures and whether Nicaraguan sand or Colombian sand would be more politically correct to put in their sandbags.

The menu for such preparedness parties will presumably include such exotic fish as mahi-mahi, or yellowtail, or even marlin, all of which are now being displayed in downtown Los Angeles markets "courtesy of El Nino" as the unseasonally warm water brings them up from the coast of Mexico.

One industry, however, that has not needed to link its advertising to El Nino is the surfing business. "The huge surf is good for business," said Keith Neary, the manager of Wave Line surf shop in Ventura. While the warmer waters have been bad for sales of wetsuits, this loss has been more than balanced by a more direct El Nino effect: "A lot of people are breaking their boards, and have to buy new ones."

Whether the storm of the century lives up to expectations, or flops like that other over-hyped aqua-disaster, Kevin Kostner's Waterworld, there is no doubt that its pre-publicity campaign has been a huge success.