Previous article

Return to Tiempo index

A weather eye on...

La Niña conditions continued to dominate the tropical Pacific during the closing months of 1999, with Southeast Asia experiencing the cold, wet weather characteristic of this phase.

Temperatures dropped to the lowest point in 65 years in Cambodia during the final days of December 1999. At the same time, central Vietnam was still recovering from the disastrous flooding in late October and early November and again in early December that left over one million people homeless and as many as 700 people dead.

Around 70 000 hectares of paddy fields in eight coastal provinces in central Vietnam were damaged or destroyed and rice crops, replanted after the November floods subsided, were washed away in December. Preliminary damage costs topped US$200 million. The deputy governor of Thua Thien Hue Province, the area worst affected by the floods, reckoned that it would take the Province “10 years to get back to where we were a week ago.”

The events in Southeast Asia can be reliably associated with the La Niña phenomenon. Elsewhere in the tropics, the random impact of extreme weather events caused even greater damage and loss of life as the millennium drew to a close.

Over 10 000 people died in eastern India as the second tropical cyclone in two weeks struck Orissa state in the final days of October 1999. With winds reaching 260 km an hour, the storm was classed as a supercyclone. It created the “worst flooding in 100 years” according to Asim Kumar Vaishnav, chief adminstrator of the state capital.

There was some satisfaction that storm shelters had proved effective. Patrick Fuller, of the Red Cross, reported that “the early warnings seem to have worked and in one shelter there were 2000 people who have been able to go back to try and reconstruct their homes.”

© 1999 Lawrence Moore

In Venezuela, an estimated 30 000 people were killed by mudslides and flash floods in mid-December 1999 as thousands of homes in mountainside shantytowns were swept away. Civil defense chief Angel Rangel said that the problem “was not so much the rain but the type of country on which it fell. In Caracas it rains for one hour and slums slide down the mountain.”

The closing months of the 20th century provided a salutary reminder that humanity remains ever vulnerable to natural variability in weather and climate, regardless of what the greenhouse future may hold in store.

Information sources

Tiempo Newswatch Archive and news stories from the BBC, CNN, ABC and Disaster Relief.

Previous article | Return to Tiempo index