Indonesia: Extreme dry season hits North Sumatra as Riau prepares artificial rain

Apriadi Gunawan and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 23 Jun 15;

An extreme dry season has hit Medan and a number of other regions in North Sumatra, triggering fears of possible forest fires. In response, Riau is preparing artificial rain to prevent the possible spread of fire.

Lestari Purba, a staff member with the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Region I Medan, said that last week’s air temperature in Medan and other regions had reached 36 degrees Celsius.

“This is already categorized as extreme because the normal temperature for these regions never exceeds 35 degrees Celsius,” said Lestari, adding that the normal temperature was between 32 and 35 degrees.

She blamed the condition on wind patterns and the position of the sun directly above North Sumatra. She also said that the hot temperature was predicted to last until the end of June.

The current dry season, she said, was the second this year, as the first one occurred in February. She said that hotspots were expected to be found in a number of regions because of high air temperatures.

Meanwhile, the head of the North Sumatra Forestry Agency, Halen Purba, said that the province was prone to forest fires during dry seasons, in particular the areas of Padang Lawas, North Padang Lawas, Labuhan Batu and Mandailing Natal regencies, as well as in parts of the Tapanuli area.

He said that his office had prepared a forest firefighter unit in anticipation.

“In North Sumatra, forest fires are mostly caused by individuals. Only a few have been caused by companies,” Halen told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Meanwhile in Riau, to help deal with the increase in temperature in the region, the provincial administration in cooperation with the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) has started preparing an artificial rain operation.

The move is intended to make sure that the increase in temperature does not lead to forest and field fires in the region.

The weather modification technology was also stepped-up following a decision by acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi “Andi” Rachman to extend the forest and land fire emergency status until December 2015.

“We expect this will be effective in preventing the reoccurrence of the haze disaster that has hit Riau for the last 17 years,” Andi said after the launch of the operation together with National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Syamsul Maarif in Pekanbaru on Monday.

Andi reminded his listeners of the negative impacts of the haze disaster in 2013 on the region’s economy, health and education.

During the haze disaster, he said, thousands of students were sent home.

“We don’t want this to be repeated. That’s why all elements in the community are expected to be side by side with the government and other stakeholders to conduct early forest and field fire preventive and mitigation measures,” he said.

Syamsul Maarif said that BNPB had allocated Rp 15 billion in funds for the development beginning on June 26 of 103 canal blockings in Rokan Hilir, Siak and Bengkalis regencies.

“The development of the canal blockings in the regencies is aimed at increasing the wetness of the areas thus making them difficult to set ablaze,” Syamsul said.

Indonesia pre-empts haze by cloud seeding to induce rain
As the dry season sets in, Jakarta is taking steps to keep haze in check
WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA Straits Times 24 Jun 15;

WITH temperatures rising and the dry season setting in, Indonesia has taken the pre-emptive step of cloud seeding to induce rain in a bid to keep haze under control.

The country's forest fires give rise to haze that has posed a persistent environmental problem not only for its people but also for its neighbours Malaysia and Singapore.

President Joko Widodo issued an ultimatum to all stakeholders last November to resolve the issue of forest fires, especially in Sumatra's Riau province.

Starting this week, a Casa C-295 aircraft loaded with about four tonnes of salt has been deployed to fly over Central Sumatra to search for clouds to seed.

"This week, the weather is very dry and the clouds are small so they are not conducive for cloud-seeding. This is part of a cycle... Next week, we should get good results," Dr Heru Widodo, head of the weather modification team at the Indonesian agency for the assessment and application of technology, told The Straits Times.

"The clouds good for seeding are those that look like cauliflower," Kompas daily quoted Mr Sutrisno, a flight scientist who goes by one name, as saying.

The pre-emptive move in Riau comes as Sumatra is seeing higher temperatures because of the El Nino effect, which can bring drought to Asia and wetter and cooler summers to parts of North America.

In the past three days, the temperature in Riau has reached 34 deg C, up from the normal range of 32 to 33 deg C, according to Ms Yesi Christy, an analyst at the weather agency in Pekanbaru, the provincial capital of Riau.

It will only get hotter in the coming weeks, she told The Straits Times.

Medan, the provincial capital of North Sumatra, recorded a high of 36 deg C, the Jakarta Post reported, citing a local weather agency official.

"This is already categorised as extreme because the normal temperature for these regions never exceeded 35 deg C," said Ms Lestari Purba, an analyst at the weather agency in Medan.

In June 2013, the worst haze in years shrouded Sumatra as well as Malaysia and Singapore, where air pollution shot to record high levels. In Pekanbaru, the temperature hit 37 deg C, the highest in more than 40 years.

The Riau region has just entered the dry season and is set to see minimum rainfall through next month and August, according to Ms Yesi, of the meteorology, climatology and geophysics office in Pekanbaru.

Indonesia expects the dry weather to continue until December.

Annual cross-border air pollution caused by uncontrolled land clearing in Indonesian plantations has been a source of unhappiness among Indonesia's neighbours, until Jakarta ratified the 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution last September.

Under the agreement, countries have to cooperate in taking measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate the haze by controlling the sources of fires, in exchanging information and technology, and in helping one another manage outbreaks.