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Monday, July 31, 2000
With La Nina gone, hope for dry Sydney Olympics

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The demise of La Nina, which had brought near-record rainfall and severe flooding to parts of Australia the past two years, has increased the possibility of dry weather during the Olympics.

 That's encouraging news to Olympic organizers, who feared a third straight year of unusually heavy rain would disrupt the Games scheduled for Sept. 15-Oct. 1.

 International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch joined in the chorus of pessimism last week, saying he was worried about the weather during the Sydney Games.

 But Australian weathermen expect a return to normal conditions -- mostly dry, with temperatures ranging between 12 and 21 degrees Celsius -- in Sydney during the Olympics.

 Grant Beard, a senior meteorologist with the Bureau of Meteorology's national climate centre in Victoria, said Monday that La Nina disappeared during the past few months.

 "It's definitely finished," Beard said. "This time around it looks as though conditions have trended back toward average significantly in the Pacific, so that a return to La Nina is unrealistic this spring."

 These Summer Olympics will be held during what is the early spring in Sydney.

 La Nina is the cooling of large areas of water in tropical parts of the Pacific Ocean, resulting in climatic disturbances. It often follows shortly after El Nino, an ocean-warming phenomenon.

 La Nina brought near-record rainfall to central and northern Australia the past two years, as well as severe flooding in areas a few hundred kilometres northwest of Sydney.

 But data collected by buoys, ships and satellites now show water temperatures in the Pacific -- which covers one-third of the earth's surface -- are back to normal.

 "With the absence of La Nina, it increases the odds of favorable weather for Sydney during the Olympics," Beard said.

 "September and October are the two driest months on average in Sydney. There have been occasions in the past when very heavy rain has occurred in both months, and it can't be discounted. But the likelihood is very low -- it would be a very rare event."

 When the ocean water is unusually warm, it causes more evaporation and creates more storms. The phenomenon was dubbed El Nino, Spanish for little boy -- it refers to the baby Jesus, because it traditionally has been noticed by Pacific fisherman around Christmas.

 Scientists discovered that El Ninos, which occur every three to seven years, sometimes are followed by a period of unusually cold water -- which they named La Nina, or little girl.

 Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., also noticed a fading of La Nina in June after using satellites to measure sea surface height -- warm water produces higher levels than cool water.

 But the NASA scientists cautioned that La Nina seemed to be on the verge of vanishing in mid-1999, only to be reinvigorated by the end of the year.

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