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Sydney's Coolest Summer in 50 Years Leaves Empty Cafes, Gloom

By Shani Raja and Simeon Bennett

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Sydney residents and tourists are cursing La Nina as the harbor city says goodbye to the summer that wasn't.

While the La Nina weather pattern is delivering rain to farmers after the worst drought in a century, it's cutting profits for cafe owners, travel agents and insurers. Insurance Australia Group Ltd., the nation's largest home insurer, last week posted a sixth straight profit decline after hail storms cost it A$105 million ($97 million). The yearly `Symphony in the Park,' which usually attracts 80,000 people, had 700 this year as the orchestra played behind a tarpaulin during a downpour.

``Everyone always thinks Australia is the best place for perfect weather, but I'm not sure I'll believe it any more,'' says Minsoo Seo, a 28-year-old marketing executive from Korea's Jeju Island, as he gazes at the waves crashing toward Bondi Beach on Australia's last day of summer. ``The wind's too strong,'' he says after deciding against surfing on a grey, gusty morning.

After four years of water restrictions, Sydney saw about 50 percent more rain than usual this summer, according to Mike De Salis, a spokesman at Australia's Bureau of Meteorology.

No day topped 31 degrees celsius (88 degrees fahrenheit) for the first time since 1956. Average daily sunshine totaled 6.7 hours, an hour less than normal and the lowest since 1991-92. The average maximum temperature was 25.2, the coolest since 1996-97.

``Suddenly we get one cool, wet summer and everyone's complaining,'' said De Salis.

Matthew Hassan, an economist at Westpac Banking Corp., said the soggy summer has weighed on Sydney's $285 billion economy.

``The endless rain is certainly adding to the sense of gloom,'' Hassan said. Employment and housing data show Sydney is already struggling with rising interest rates and gasoline prices.

More Rain

Surfer Seo's contribution to the tourism industry -- and the local economy will soon end. Seo is cutting his three-month Sydney stay short by a month because of the rain, which is forecast to remain for at least three months, according to the meteorology bureau.

La Nina, which means ``little girl'' in Spanish, is created by the cooling of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. It's the opposite of El Nino, or ``little boy,'' which can cause drought.

Dam levels rose to 64.4 percent at the end of February from 37.1 percent a year ago. Rain fall reached 439 millimeters this summer, compared with an average of 298 millimeters.

``We're not whinging about the rain,'' said Ben Fargaher, chief executive officer of the National Farmers' Federation in Canberra, Australia's capital city. ``Good living weather is not good farming weather.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Shani Raja in Sydney at Sraja4@bloomberg.netSimeon Bennett in Singapore on Sbennett9@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: March 4, 2008 16:17 EST

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