WEATHER Wise

El Nino is getting weaker - though you would hardly guess it from the things that have been blamed on it in the past few days.

Peru: According to the Peruvian Ocean Institute, the El Nino warm water mass is starting to disappear. An analysis of satellite photographs has shown that a deep cold water current is rising to the surface, displacing El Nino's warm water towards the Peruvian coast.

England: Record January temperatures have been blamed on El Nino, which has resulted in unseasonally warm air in the South Atlantic, brought here by south-westerly winds.

Israel: A huge snowfall in Jerusalem has solved a mystery for one tourist. John Vest, a visitor from Florida, said yesterday: "In the Bible, in the Psalms, when David says 'white as snow', I always wondered how he knew what snow was like. Now I know."

United States: An estimated half a million people were without power after an icy storm hit Maine and northern New York. Power lines were down, and hundreds of families were forced into emergency shelters. This is the kind of damage you'd see in a wartime situation," said a spokesman for a power company. El Nino was held to blame for three days of freezing rain. "It's impossible to exaggerate the devastation," said Angus King, the Governor of Maine.

Canada: An ice storm has effectively closed down Montreal for the past four days.Yesterday, schools, businesses, institutions and industry were again requested not to open. The damage has been estimated at more than $1bn, making it the country's costliest ever natural disaster for the insurance industry. At least 15 deaths in Canada have been blamed on the ice storm.

China: Unusually warm winter weather may add to the problems of what is already the country's worst drought for 30 years.

Britain: William Hill has cut the odds against the temperature reaching 100F anywhere in the UK in 1998 from 25-1 to 20-1.

William Hartston

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