August 19, 2016

Have We Overcome the Severest El Nino?

Khin Maung Myint

The monsoon has come. It is a great relief, as the temperatures have noticeably decreased and the rains had brought water to many places, relieving the water shortage problems. However, the El Nino is still here. The first cyclone of the year had brought along heavy rains, causing flooding that causes deaths and destructions in many places. This unusual disasters, right at the beginning of the monsoon, which affected many regions are unprecedented, as far as I can remember.
A few weeks ago, I was greatly surprised to read a piece of news, which a local magazine posted on the Facebook. It mentioned that the El Nino weather condition had ceased and had given way to La Nina already. The reason for my surprise was because, from the studies I had made, my understanding is, the present El Nino, which is the severest in its history, would persist until the end of 2016 or may even continue into the early 2017. Thus it is still too early to be assumed as being over.
My opinion is, the El Nino is just tapering off after reaching its peak, when the whole country and elsewhere in the world had to suffer the extreme high temperatures and the consequences of the droughts that causes water shortages and lost of lives of human and livestock due to extreme heat. There were also destructions of crops due to lack of enough water for the agricultural purposes. Not only the agricultural sector, but the fishery sector, too, was affected. Our country persevered and overcame the devastating effects of the most severe El Nino, for the time being. Thanks to the efforts of the departments concerned and the philanthropists, who donated water, the most essential commodity for the survival of human and livestocks and other necessary humanitarian assistances to be able to withstand the overwhelming weather conditions.
By now, most people are quite familiar with these terms: El Nino and La Nina. However, only a few are knowledgeable as to how they evolve and what their effects are. Many writers, including me, had written articles related to these weather phenomena. Still there are many who do not know what these weather conditions actually are and how they can affect us. There are many different theories related to these phenomena but, the weathermen and scientists would need to reach a consensus as to the most accurate description and method of forecasting of these weather phenomena. This fact is quite evident from the above statement that some are saying the El Nino had given way to La Nina, while some insist that would happen only at the end of the year.
Everything about El Nino and La Nina are not all about devastations and woes, but there are also brighter sides too. Because of the water in the Pacific flowed from east to the west during El Nino period and reversed in direction during the La Nina period, the fishery industries in those areas benefit from them. Also, recently there were news of some lakes and reservoirs in the United States, which were either dried up or the water levels had receded drastically, were filled up again. Thanks to the effects of the El Nino that caused high temperature rises, which melt the snow and ice on the high mountains and drained them into the lakes and reservoirs, filling them up, attracting tourists and vacationers again.
Unseasonal river rises are also common in the Ayarwady and some other major rivers in our country, though only those who live along or close to them know about this. Every hot season, especially during the period from the end of March through the month of April and early May, before the rains fall, the Ayarwady river rises about two to four feet. I had encountered such situation at Pyay many decades ago. That experience prompted me to find out what caused that river to rise. The locals called it the “Tagu Yay” or “Tagu Water”, as it occured mostly during the Myanmar month of “Tagu”, which coincides with April. The rise was due to the melting of snow and ice on the Himalayan ranges and our own snow-covered mountains to our north. However, this year, due to the severe El Nino conditions, the melting must have been more than the normal years. This is quite evident from the fact that the river rise this year during the hot season was significantly much higher than the other years. This unusual rise caused by the El Nino, plus the heavy rains brought on by the cyclone and the onset of monsoon caused the recent flooding in the upper parts and elsewhere in the country, resulting in deaths to people and destructions of properties and crops.
Weather experts are of the opinion that no two El Ninos or no two La Nina are alike. Based on that concept and on my own logic, I am of the opinion that it would be difficult to determine exactly when the El Nino ends and the La Nina begins. Thus, it would be safer to assume that the La Nina could set in anytime and the situations should be monitored closely and make necessary preparations. Here, I would like to point out that the extreme temperatures, droughts and water shortages are not the only adverse effects of El Nino, but they could also bring on stronger tropical revolving storms, such as cyclones in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, or typhoons in the Pacific Ocean or hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Along with these tropical storms heavy rains too would come along. These conditions could lead to extensive flooding. Last year’s floods, which occured during the El Nino period, was a strong proof to my statement.
Although meteorology and hydrology is not my field of expertise, as I had once served in a profession that needed us to be well informed and be able to forecast the weather conditions and the rise and fall in river levels on our own, I am quite familiar with such matters. Besides that, as I am obsessed with the climate changes and the El Nino and La Nina phenomena, I had made some studies on my own. El Nino may be starting to wane, but we cannot expect the La Nina to set in immediately. According to some experts, there is a 50% possibility of the La Nina weather condition setting in during the later part of this year.
Finally, based on the aforementioned facts, I would like to suggest that we shouldn’t take it for granted that the El Nino has ended just because the droughts are almost over. So, I assume that we had not yet fully overcome the severest El Nino in history, since its recognition in 1950. Also, with the coming of La Nina, temperatures would significantly decrease. Tropical storms would be more frequent and stronger, bringing on heavy rains and cause severe flooding. Thus, I would venture to predict that the flooding this year could be more severe than the one we faced last year. The reason is: because as it follows in the wake of the severest El Nino, this year’s La Nina could also be the severest. So, not to be caught off-guard, well planned preparations should be in place by now to meet any exigencies in case of severe flooding to mitigate the woes of the people and prevent extensive destructions.


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