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Chile's meteorologists on alert for La Niña

Sunday, March 4th 2007 - 21:00 UTC
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Meteorologists in the U.S. forecast Thursday an increase in hurricanes for the coming year. They lay the blame on “La Niña” – El Niño's ”sister” phenomenon - which produces a cooling effect on the surface water of the Pacific Ocean and can drastically alter weather patterns as far as Africa.

La Niña is already present on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Meteorologists are unable to predict the length or intensity of this phenomenon, but warn it typically means more hurricanes in the Atlantic, and less rain and more heat for the already drought-stricken South. The news has Chile on alert as the Southern Cone would also face drought in areas. "The biggest impact of this climatic event occurs in winter when there is less rain in La Serena and Temuco," said Jorge Carrasco, head of Climatology for Chile's Meteorological Department. The occurrence of La Niña generally follows an appearance of El Niño, a climatic trend which warms the Pacific Ocean by an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Last year witnessed a brief and mild occurrence of El Niño, which meteorologists confirm has now subsided. When El Niño recedes, rainfall drops by an average 33 percent â€" a figure that can prove disastrous for crops. Luis Schmidt, president of the National Agricultural Society (SNA), says that his organization is taking steps to address this scenario, such as improving and expanding irrigation systems. He also took the opportunity to stress the need for a National Glacier Protection Law â€" which is currently moving through the Senate â€" and pointed out that, in the case of drought, 70 percent of Chile's water comes from its glaciers. Many of Chile's ice masses are currently threatened by mining projects such as the controversial Pascua Lama mine, and all face rapid diminution due to rising temperatures caused by global warming. The Santiago Times

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