Malaysia: Goodbye El Nino... Hello La Nina, as more rain expected till year end

BERNAMA New Straits Times 16 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The rainy days and the spate of flash floods in the country are the clearest indication that the hot spell caused by the El Nino phenomenon has started to wither away.

Even up to two weeks back Malaysians had to endure with the heat that made life uncomfortable both indoors and outdoors. Dams have been drying up and there were fears that taps could run dry in the Klang Valley and many other places in the country.

The searing heat and the change in the rain patterns for more than 10 months resulted in a parched landscape.
Farmers were the worst affected with paddy planting at the rice bowl regions had to be called off due to the lack of water. Firemen were kept busy fighting bush and peat fires.

While Malaysians wave goodbye to El Nino, they are now bracing for the La Nina with the opposite effect that is expected to continue up to the year end. Malaysians can expect showers till the year end.

La Nina happens when the sea surface temperature near the equator in the central and eastern part of the Pacific Ocean decreases.

A WELCOMED RESPITE

Southeast Asia had to bear losses up to US$10 billion (RM40 billion) due to the El Nino. The phenomenon happens when the sea surface temperature around the equator in the Pacific Ocean goes up.

However, the rain that started from mid April helped to cool down the temperature and saved millions of Malaysians from water shortage.

The El Nino phenomenon that started in Mac 2015 peaked in December and the situation remained the same for the first three months of 2016. Its effects started waning since late April and are expected to completely wear off by June.

EXTREME EL NINO

While the public have been lamenting over the effects of El Nino, for weatherman like Alui Bahari it is not a new phenomenon in the country.

El Nino has been recorded in Malaysia as early as 1951/1952, but its effects were milder then. Most people then were not aware of the phenomenon too, said the Deputy Director for Operations for the Malaysian Meteorological Department, Alui Bahari.

“Now people are more knowledgeable and are concerned with the changes in the weather patterns both in the country and the world,” he said when met at Bernama recently.

Studies done by the Meteorology Department found that much of the El Nino effect was felt in Sabah and north Sarawak, and the east coast and the northern part of the Peninsula.

This is why Kedah, Perlis, Perak in the north and Kelantan and Pahang in the east witnessed the rainfall reduced up to 60 percent.

The El Nino cycle appears every two to seven years with each cycle lasting between six and 18 months. Though Malaysians boiled over the searing heat during the El Nino cycle this time around, it is not the worst heat that the country has seen.

During the current El Nino cycle the highest recorded temperature was 39.3 Celsius in Batu Embun, Pahang, less than the 40.1 Celsius recorded in Chuping, Perlis during the 1997/1998 El Nino.

THE TRANSITION INTO MONSOON

With the El Nino effects withering away, and the monsoon transition period kicking in, rain is to be expected during the evenings like seen now. This will continue until the end of May.

The monsoon transition with weak winds from various directions have caused thunderstorms with heavy rains in the west coast of Peninsula.

“This generally happens from April to May and from October to early November and these are the two monsoon transiting periods,” he said.

Alui recapped that the country has two monsoon seasons, namely the Southwest Monsoon that occurs from May to September and the Northeast Monsoon from November to March.

The strong winds during these periods could bring down trees and homes and the heavy rains could cause flash floods in low lying areas or where the drainage is poor.

The continuous heavy rain for more than an hour on May 12 wreaked havoc in Kuala Lumpur. Parts of Jalan Travers and Jalan Pantai, and Jalan Ampang were inundated with many vehicles ending up under water. Two days earlier, Shah Alam was inundated after a late evening downpour.

As May comes to an end, the Southeast Monsoon will begin and continue until September. However, the Southeast Monsoon will not be able to stop the haze especially when there is open burning within and without the country.

THE LA NINA

According to Alui, based on the weather model, La Nina’s effects could be worst at the year end when the monsoon peaks.

“We have been closely monitoring on the developments and will be on high alert during the last three months of the year,” he said.

If there is no La Nina effect, the weather will return to normal with the usual wet spell in the east coast during December where the rains average between 600mm and 700mm.

Meanwhile, another climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah stated that the climate in the Pacific region is still under the influence of El Nino and its effects will only fully fade in June with La Nina

The La Nina’s effect this time is expected to be similar with the one seen in 2008 and 2011.

Azizan concurred with Alui that the current wet spell is not due to the La Nina but due to the monsoon transition period (April-May).

Thus the current wet spell is not something strange, moreover the rain intensity for the month of April was not out of the ordinary when compared with previously.

“The flash floods in Klang Valley especially in Kuala Lumpur is due to rapid development and poor drainage. The green lung and open areas that could help absorb rain water had been replaced by roads and buildings.

“The rain water now all turn into surface run off and they move towards low lying areas hence causing flash floods,” he said.

AREAS AFFECTED BY LA NINA

The east coast states, including Sabah and Sarawak will bear the brunt of the effects due to La Nina and a deluge during the northeast monsoon could not be ruled out.

“The floods are dependent on the location and the duration of the rainfall. If the heavy rainfall is along the coastal areas, a devastating deluge like the one that occurred in 2014 may not be possible,” he said.

However, if the heavy rainfall happens in the interior say for four to five days, like how it happened in 2014, could cause the river levels rise to 10 metres and cause massive flooding.

DON’T FORGET THE HAZE

Azizan who is also the Director of the National Antarctica Research Centre at Universiti Malaya also pointed out that other areas in the region like Sumatera and Kalimantan have been enveloped by the heat caused by El Nino.

It is feared that if these areas start open burning in July, the southwest and southern winds will carry dust particles towards Malaysia.

However, the haze would not be as bad as in 2015 because La Nina’s stronger effect from July to August bringing down more rain in the region, he said.

Places in the east coast like Kemaman, Kota Bharu, South Sarawak especially Kuching will have to be wary of the haze from July to August and later the possibility of a deluge. --BERNAMA

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