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Thursday, July 16, 1998 Published at 20:58 GMT 21:58 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

'Little girl' who wreaks havoc

The worst drought in living memory was followed by floods

Freak weather conditions in Australia are being blamed on a relative of the El Niño weather effect - La Niña.

Bad weather has taken its toll on Australia
The weather is bringing snow to areas of the South East which rarely see it. In Victoria, the worst drought in living memory suddenly turned to floods.

Heavy rain and hurricanes have destroyed property, ruined crops, and killed livestock.

[ image: A place where it never snows...]
A place where it never snows...
The La Niña weather phenomenon - "the little girl" in Spanish to El Niño's "little boy" - is characterised by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

It is caused by a weakening of the El Niño weather pattern, and brings reverse conditions.

Areas blighted by El Niño-generated drought, like South East Asia, tend to get unusually heavy rains and sometimes floods.

La Niña travels far

The effects of La Niña are expected to felt throughout Asia and Africa.

[ image: Whipping up a storm]
Whipping up a storm
Already in Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, officials are warning that rice and other crop output may be below expectations because of flooding.

But meteorologists in Singapore say La Niña brings good news too - it will avert a repeat of the haze that choked much of South East Asia last year.

Sea changes

The weather patterns are brought about by changes in the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean.

[ image: La Niña - sometimes called
La Niña - sometimes called "The Cold Tongue"
According to the World Meteorological Organisation, surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific have already fallen to below normal, mainly along the equator.

Earlier, they had risen under El Niño to about 32°C (89.6°F) - five degrees above normal.

Lars Olsson, Acting Director of the World Climate Programme, said La Niña could bring heavy rains across South East Asia in the next few months.

" La Niña is developing quickly. This one seems more intensive than what we have seen before," he said at a Geneva conference last week.

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