El Nino and La Nina: Children at Play (And Disturbing Weather Patterns Across the Globe)

The ‘ber’ months are finally here! For us Filipinos, this is the much-awaited signal to start playing Christmas carols and decorating our homes with bright reds, golds, and greens.

A word of advice, though, for those who have already been bitten by the holiday bug: just make sure that your Christmas celebration plans are waterproof.

Recently, the state-run Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has warned of a possible La Niña event occurring late this year and may even persist until January or February of 2017.

La Niña affects the Philippines by intensifying rainfall in terms of volume and duration. People living in areas prone to flash floods and landslides like Olongapo City are advised to take caution during such a phenomenon.

To sum it up, the cold Christmas season of the year might just get colder with La Niña just around the corner.

‘El Niño’, which in Spanish means ‘The Little Boy’, was the name given to the above-normal warming of the sea surface temperature (SST) in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific (CEEP). It was first observed by fishermen along the coast of South America in the 1600s. It was called El Niño since it tends to appear during the Christmas season. La Niña or ‘The Girl’ , meanwhile, is the complete opposite—the tropical Pacific is cooler than normal. These natural phenomena occur every three to seven years, and cause global changes in terms of atmospheric pressure, temperature, and rainfall pattern.

 

In the Wake of ‘Godzilla’

La Niña events do not always follow after El Niños, but the rain-inducing occurrence is more likely to appear after a strong El Niño, according to meteorologists.

The 14-month El Niño that ended in June this year was so intense that scientists have nicknamed it the ‘Godzilla’.

Ocean temperature in the Pacific went up to as high as 3°C above normal, making the event one of the three strongest El Niños on record.

Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands bore the brunt of Godzilla. Droughts and flashfloods negatively impacted the livelihood and food security of over 60 million people, according to the United Nations (UN).

In Southeast Asia, an acrid haze hung over eight countries— including the Philippines— when a four-month forest fire ravaged Indonesia. The wildfire spread quickly as the country also faced a severe drought, and taking into consideration that 2014 and 2015 were two of the warmest years on record.

The Philippines, where 85% of the provinces experienced drought, made international headlines when 6,000 farmers of North Cotabato sought drought relief from the government in April 2016. The ensuing tension between protesters and policemen left two farmers dead and scores wounded from both sides.

 

Olongapo in Near-Crisis Situation

SUBICWATER launched its “Bantay El Niño” information campaign when the PAGASA warned that an extremely dry situation was to be expected in the country.

The program was aimed to educate residents in Olongapo City about the possible scenarios should water supply become critical, and what specific steps to follow in such cases.

Four ‘Drought Conditions’ based on percentage of supply shortage were created by SUBICWATER as reference. A color-coded map that shows the expected water service levels in specific areas accompanied each drought advisory.

On May 8, the company warned of an imminent Drought Condition-1 when supply shortage was nearing 12%. Communities that are in relatively higher elevation, and those that are farthest from water treatment plants and deep wells, were advised to store water whenever supply was available.

This situation persisted for a few weeks with a couple of scattered rain showers visiting the region, providing minimal relief from the dry spell until May 24, when the PAGASA declared that the rainy season was at last, ‘officially in’.

 

El Niño Out, La Niña In? 

PAGASA on that same day also warned the country to brace for a possible La Niña phenomenon, which could gradually develop starting August.

When La Niña kicks in, the Philippines would face the threat of more typhoons, particularly in the last quarter of 2016. Typhoons during the period of La Niña may not necessarily be stronger, but their frequency is expected to increase.

The typhoons will also enhance the southwest monsoon which dumps heavy rainfall; people living in flood and landslide-prone areas like Olongapo City are at risk.

This was what exactly happened last July 8, when Typhoon Butchoy intensified monsoon rains and battered Luzon. As a result, several landslides occurred in the hilly parts of Olongapo City, most notable among them happened at the public cemetery in Barangay Kalaklan, where tombs from the hillsides came crashing down the highway.

Non-stop rains also fell in the region for two weeks thereafter. Since a great part of Olongapo City lies within an alluvial floodplain, the swelling of rivers coupled with rising ocean tides caused several flashfloods to occur.

Worse things are more likely to happen if a strong La Niña will be born this year.

Recently, the state-run Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has warned of a possible La Niña event occurring late this year and may even persist until January or February of 2017.

La Niña affects the Philippines by intensifying rainfall in terms of volume and duration. People living in areas prone to flash floods and landslides like Olongapo City are advised to take caution during such a phenomenon.

To sum it up, the cold Christmas season of the year might just get colder with La Niña just around the corner.

 

In the Wake of ‘Godzilla’

La Niña events do not always follow after El Niños, but the rain-inducing occurrence is more likely to appear after a strong El Niño, according to meteorologists.

The 14-month El Niño that ended in June this year was so intense that scientists have nicknamed it the ‘Godzilla’.

Ocean temperature in the Pacific went up to as high as 3°C above normal, making the event one of the three strongest El Niños on record.

Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands bore the brunt of Godzilla. Droughts and flashfloods negatively impacted the livelihood and food security of over 60 million people, according to the United Nations (UN).

In Southeast Asia, an acrid haze hung over eight countries— including the Philippines— when a four-month forest fire ravaged Indonesia. The wildfire spread quickly as the country also faced a severe drought, and taking into consideration that 2014 and 2015 were two of the warmest years on record.

The Philippines, where 85% of the provinces experienced drought, made international headlines when 6,000 farmers of North Cotabato sought drought relief from the government in April 2016. The ensuing tension between protesters and policemen left two farmers dead and scores wounded from both sides.

Olongapo in Near-Crisis SituationSUBICWATER launched its “Bantay El Niño” information campaign when the PAGASA warned that an extremely dry situation was to be expected in the country.

The program was aimed to educate residents in Olongapo City about the possible scenarios should water supply become critical, and what specific steps to follow in such cases.

Four ‘Drought Conditions’ based on percentage of supply shortage were created by SUBICWATER as reference. A color-coded map that shows the expected water service levels in specific areas accompanied each drought advisory.

On May 8, the company warned of an imminent Drought Condition-1 when supply shortage was nearing 12%. Communities that are in relatively higher elevation, and those that are farthest from water treatment plants and deep wells, were advised to store water whenever supply was available.

This situation persisted for a few weeks with a couple of scattered rain showers visiting the region, providing minimal relief from the dry spell until May 24, when the PAGASA declared that the rainy season was at last, ‘officially in’.

 

Even during times when there is no threat from El Niño, SUBICWATER constantly upgrades its water system to make it resilient to prolonged dry spells.This includes the construction of new water storage structures or reservoirs. Inside the Mabayuan Water Treatment Plant is a two-million liter tank which stores water during nighttime or when water demand is low, and provides buffer supply during times of peak water usage.

 

 

 

 

Even though Olongapo City is not blessed with abundant raw water compared to nearby regions, SUBICWATER never tires to search for new sources. Recently, two new wells were developed in the former Naval Magazine Area in Subic Bay Freeport. The Lopez Jaena Well in New Cabalan was commissioned in mid-August. In Barretto, the company successfully constructed another well, but unfortunately, was not yet commissioned as a legal issue with another water utility is being ironed out.

Every year, SUBICWATER dredges river-sources to prepare it for the summer, when water supply gets critical. It also initiates and participates in programs that focus on the care for our watershed areas. 

Crisis Management Program. Should the region be hit with natural or man-made calamities, the company can quickly and appropiately adjust and resume operations as it has a system in place, called the Business Continuity Management (BCM).

 

El Niño Out, La Niña In? 

PAGASA on that same day also warned the country to brace for a possible La Niña phenomenon, which could gradually develop starting August.

When La Niña kicks in, the Philippines would face the threat of more typhoons, particularly in the last quarter of 2016. Typhoons during the period of La Niña may not necessarily be stronger, but their frequency is expected to increase.

The typhoons will also enhance the southwest monsoon which dumps heavy rainfall; people living in flood and landslide-prone areas like Olongapo City are at risk.

This was what exactly happened last July 8, when Typhoon Butchoy intensified monsoon rains and battered Luzon. As a result, several landslides occurred in the hilly parts of Olongapo City, most notable among them happened at the public cemetery in Barangay Kalaklan, where tombs from the hillsides came crashing down the highway.

Non-stop rains also fell in the region for two weeks thereafter. Since a great part of Olongapo City lies within an alluvial floodplain, the swelling of rivers coupled with rising ocean tides caused several flashfloods to occur.

Worse things are more likely to happen if a strong La Niña will be born this year.

ROADBLOCKS: Several landslides along the Kalaklan Ridge occured due to heavy rains on July 08. Even the local public cemetery which sits atop and on the sides of the ridge was not spared. The incessant rains caused tombstones to come crashing down the highway, exposing human remains to unwary motorists. (Photos courtesy of Jonas Reyes of the Manila Bulletin).

 

Preparation is Key

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on August 22 reported that the equatorial sea surface temperatures (SST) are near or below average in the east-central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

As such, a cool-neutral to a weak La Niña is slightly favored to develop during August-October, and there is a 55-60% chance that it will occur during December to February next year.

Take note, however, that a ‘weak’ La Niña is still to be taken seriously since it can cause major floodings and landslides, just like what happened in 2005.

The public is strongly urged to follow the La Niña Watch weather forecasting agencies since climate conditions may improve or worsen in the months ahead.

At this early, everyone is advised to make the necessary preparations at home, school, or workplace in anticipation of an extended rainy season: removal of blockages in waterways, cleaning the surroundings to deter the breeding of Dengue-causing mosquitoes, and having emergency disaster kits ready.

With safety checks in place, we can focus on celebrating what the Christmas season is all about— rains, thunderstorms, or flashfloods notwithstanding.

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