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El Nino Could Make Asia’s Choking Haze Even Worse

  • Air pollution from forest fires could match 1997 levels
  • Strengthening El Nino could delay wet season by 2-3 weeks
A firefighter covers his mouth as they extinguish the fire on burned peatland and fields in South Sumatra, Indonesia.

A firefighter covers his mouth as they extinguish the fire on burned peatland and fields in South Sumatra, Indonesia.

Photographer: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images
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The choking haze blowing across Southeast Asia from burning rainforests in Indonesia is worsening again and may last several more weeks as an unusually strong El Nino keeps away seasonal rain that would quench the fires.

Singapore’s air quality deteriorated Tuesday to an "unhealthy" level, authorities said. An intensifying El Nino will probably delay the start of the eastern monsoon until late October or early November, said Robert Field, an associate research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at New York’s Columbia University. Heavy rain will be the biggest help in clearing the atmosphere and extinguishing illegally-lit fires on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and New Guinea.