SIGNS AND PORTENTS
May it not be an omen. -- an old saying
El Niño. The Boy Child. Enfant terrible. Named long ago by Spanish-speaking fishermen for the baby Jesus, it was once regarded as little more than a tepid current that visits the coasts of Peru and Ecuador at Christmas, temporarily reducing the rich fish stocks and giving the pescadores some welcome time away from the sea. Meteorologists were hardly more interested than the fishermen in what appeared on their charts as the Southern Oscillation.
All that changed forever during the winter of 1982-83, when the sea temperature off Peru rose by four degrees Celsius literally overnight. In the coming months, weather linked to El Niño would kill 2,000 people around the world and cause over $13 billion in damage from drought, flood, fire, and storm.
Nowhere was the suffering greater than in El Niño's host country. Peru's agricultural output fell by 8.5 percent, while production in its economically vital fishing industry was nearly halved. Meanwhile, inland and to the south, El Niño brought drought to the naturally dry Altiplano, the high plateau surrounding Lake Titicaca, which Peru shares with Bolivia. After their potato crops failed, desperate mothers at-