Wednesday 26 February 2014

February 2014 sets record as driest month since 1869

Rain fell on just seven days; Feb also the windiest in three decades
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 5 Mar 2014

BONE-DRY February has entered the record books as the country's driest month in nearly 150 years, and the windiest in three decades, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

A paltry 0.2mm of rain was recorded last month at Changi climate station.

This is the least that has fallen since 1869, and is well below the previous record of 6.3mm recorded in February 2010 and the mean February rainfall of 161mm.

Rain fell on just seven days, with about half of the NEA's 64 rainfall stations recording under 10mm of rain. Average wind speeds, meanwhile, gusted at 13.3kmh, versus the February average of 8.8kmh.

The second month of the year typically has cool, windy and drier weather, owing to the dry phase of the north-east monsoon.

Indeed, last month was also one of the least humid, the NEA said yesterday. The mean daily relative humidity of 74.5 per cent was the lowest ever, shaving the previous record of 74.6 per cent measured last June.

Humidity in Singapore usually averages between 82 and 87 per cent. But mean daily maximum temperatures edged up nearly a degree to 31.9 deg C.

National University of Singapore weather researcher Winston Chow said the extent of dryness last month was "worrying", but without more research cannot be seen as a sign of things to come.

At Changi Sailing Club, the winds were a boon for sailors but caused havoc at the Coachman Inn Restaurant. Manager Steven Lim said: "We had tablecloths blowing away, glasses breaking."

Yet diners made the most of the breeze so business went up by 30 per cent, he said.

The dry spell lasted 27 days from Jan 13 to Feb 8, making it one of the longest on record.

The NEA said the country is in a second dry spell now, defined as a period of more than 14 days with less than 1mm of rain, taking into account readings at all of its rainfall stations.

The brief showers on Monday "were not widespread enough" to break the dry spell, it said, without explaining fully.

National water agency PUB has sent 25,000 circulars asking organisations to save water.

The lack of rain has affected fruit harvests in Malaysia, and some sellers in Singapore have raised the prices of watermelons and papayas by as much as 25 per cent.

More of the same fair, warm and windy conditions are expected till mid-March, with rain predicted towards the month's end.

Singapore experiencing record dry spell - and it could get worse
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2014

THE nearly month-long dry spell from Jan 13 to Feb 8 has gone down in history as the country's worst since extensive data recording began five decades ago, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Barely any rain fell in Singapore for those 27 consecutive days, comfortably dwarfing the previous record, an 18-day dry spell in 2008.

Though brief showers on Feb 8 and Feb 9 ended the dearth and brought respite to parched parks and gardens islandwide, the lack of rain has persisted. Apart from again short-lived showers in western Singapore on Feb 16, the island has seen no rain since.

The dry weather is "likely to persist into the first half of March", the NEA predicted, which could set another record.

The Meteorological Service Singapore defines a dry spell as a period of more than 14 days with less than 1mm of rain. Drier weather is common at the end of the north-east monsoon, usually from February until early March.

The recent lack of rain is in part because the dry phase of the north-east monsoon set in during the middle of January, earlier than usual, the NEA has said.

Just 75.4mm of rain last month and 0.2mm this month to date was recorded at NEA's Changi climate station, compared to the long-term averages of 242.4mm and 161mm respectively.

"This is definitely out of the ordinary," said National University of Singapore weather researcher Winston Chow.

But "abnormal" and extreme weather patterns like this could be more common in the long term due to climate change, he added. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of the same in its latest report last year, which drew from the conclusions of scientists and politicians from 195 countries.

"The concern is that these uncommon weather events may be happening more frequently sooner rather than later," said Professor Chow. He noted that in recent months, the United States has been hit by unusually freezing weather, Australia by extreme heat and Britain by devastating storms and floods.

The NEA also said "climate change increases the risks of both wetter and drier extremes", but that further studies were needed to investigate exactly how this would affect Singapore.

National water agency PUB has been pumping 20 million to 25 million gallons of Newater a day since late last month into reservoirs to maintain their water levels. Last week, it raised this to 30 million gallons, a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the National Parks Board said it has started to water flora in parks and along roads, which is showing "symptoms of water stress".

Malaysia is also grappling with one of its driest spells in years, with some states declaring a water crisis and planning cloud seeding this week. Selangor has started rationing water and other states might do the same.

The dry weather has also worsened hot spots from fires in Indonesia's Riau province, with 1,234 hot spots detected yesterday, reported The Jakarta Post.

Dry spell leads to more vegetation fires, mosquitoes, health problems
By Lim Wee Leng, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Feb 2014

The number of vegetation fires early this year was four times more than the same period last year.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said there were nearly 100 such fires between January and February this year, compared with 25 in the same period in 2013.

Although there is an increase from last year, the figures are still lower compared with the peak periods in 2005 and 2009, said SCDF.

In 2005, there were 532 fires between January and February and in 2009, there were 341 fires for the same period.

The SCDF added that most vegetation fires were minor in nature.

No injuries have been reported.

The more notable vegetation fires included one at Commonwealth Drive and another at Clementi.

The fire at Commonwealth Drive on January 20 covered an area measuring about 20 metres by 20 metres and took firefighters over one hour to put out.

The fire at Clementi Avenue 6 on January 30 covered an area measuring about 60 metres by 30 metres.

Firefighters brought the fire under control within half an hour and took another four hours to complete damping down the fire.

But the fires are just one of the effects of the dry spell.

Mosquitoes of a certain breed have become more common because of the dry spell.

Pest control experts say such mosquitoes are active at night and usually thrive between February and May.

Experts say that with the dry weather, mosquito-breeding spots are less likely to be flushed away by rain.

Meanwhile, one doctor said he is seeing more patients who have respiratory conditions and eczema because of the dry spell.

Reasons for dry spell run hot and cold
Cooler seas, weather extremes in US among the possibilities, say experts
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2014

SINGAPORE and Malaysia's prolonged dry weather may have been caused by cooler-than-usual sea surface temperatures in the nearby South China Sea.

This could have lessened the evaporation of seawater and the moisture content of monsoonal winds which help cause rain here, and possibly weakened the force of the winds themselves.

Other factors could include abnormal weather events in other parts of the world, such as extreme cold and warmth in the United States, having a "knock-on" impact on regional weather.

Global warming may also have increased the odds of extreme weather events worldwide, such as the current heatwave and drought in Australia.

Weather researchers laid out these possibilities to The Straits Times yesterday, but stressed that more research would be needed to substantiate them and clarify their effects.

National University of Singapore weather researcher Winston Chow added that while these factors may have prolonged and worsened the lack of rain, dry spells are common at this time of year in Singapore and Malaysia, in the dry phase of the monsoon season.

"What is not normal is the duration of the dry spell... but picking a single reason is extremely difficult without 'attributional' studies, and these have to be done after the event," said Dr Chow, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography.

Barely any rain fell in Singapore for 27 consecutive days from Jan 13 to Feb 8.

The lack of rain has also persisted since then, despite brief showers on a few days.

Much of Malaysia has also been bone-dry for a month, prompting authorities to start rationing water in Selangor, the country's most populous state, from today.

Australia had its hottest year on record last year. The heatwave has continued into this year, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott announcing a A$320 million (S$365 million) package for stricken farmers this week.

In Indonesia, unusually dry weather has also resulted in more forest fires and haze. The air pollutant index in Dumai, about 270km north-west of Singapore in the Riau province of Sumatra, hit a hazardous 776 on Tuesday, but Singapore's index showed air quality here remains "good".

Dr Chow said rain is likely to return to Singapore in the middle of next month due to favourable weather conditions expected then.

A phenomenon known as the inter-tropical convergence zone is expected to force moist air upwards, resulting in rain.

The National Environment Agency had estimated that the dry spell would "persist into the first half of March".

But the agency also warned that climate change "increases the risk of both wetter and drier extremes", although more studies are needed to investigate exactly how Singapore would be affected.

While it could not pinpoint the cause of changes in patterns, it noted there have been more frequent and intense rains over the past few decades. The maximum rainfall in an hour, for example, increased from 80mm in 1980 to 107mm in 2012.

In Australia, the former executive director of the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, Professor Will Steffen, co-authored a report released last month outlining how Australia's heatwaves have become hotter and longer.

"Climate change is loading the dice towards more extreme hot weather," he told reporters.

Water-rationing will see taps go dry some days
By Lester Kong, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2014

SOME three million residents in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor as well as businesses big and small are bracing themselves for the prospect of dry taps on some days, as a water-rationing exercise kicks in today.

Entering Ms Zuraini Jallal's kitchen, one cannot miss the assortment of big bottles that she has assiduously filled up, following a month-long dry spell that has led to Selangor's largest water-rationing exercise in 16 years. This will end on March 31.

These days, Ms Zuraini makes do with a pail of water when she cooks for her husband and young daughter.

"Better than eating out every day or we would be broke now," the 35-year-old part-time actress quipped when The Straits Times visited her 600 sq ft apartment in Desa Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday. But she has found other ways to save water.

There are lots of used polystyrene plates and cups in the rubbish bin.

"Wet wipes are very useful," she said pointedly as her four-year-old daughter went to the bathroom.

She also encourages her husband, a bus driver, to bathe at the office.

Ms Zuraini's home is one of the 60,000 households that will be affected by the water rationing.

Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Johor are going through an especially dry season, with dams at critical levels and rain not expected until the middle of March. Water rationing is imminent in Negeri Sembilan and Johor, while the federal government is mulling over declaring a national emergency if things get worse.

A spokesman for water distribution company Syabas, Ms Priscilla Alfred, told The Straits Times that housing areas will be divided into Zone One and Zone Two, with each taking turns to get two days of piped water followed by two days of dry taps.

"Households and industries will be able to plan their schedules much better," she said.

Since Jan 28, residents specifically in the Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat and Sepang districts of Selangor have found themselves with no water intermittently.

Water trucks were deployed to make deliveries, but these were ad hoc and sometimes took place in the early hours of the morning.

Food businesses have been hit.

"It's too difficult to haul water to the stall every day," said Ms Ima Yusof, a 50-year-old helper at a nasi lemak stall, which has been closed for three weeks.

Datuk R. Ramalingam, who heads a grouping of Indian restaurants, said 130 of its members in Selangor and KL have been forced to suspend their business.

On the eve of the water rationing, some residents wondered if it would be implemented as smoothly as officials had promised.

"The state government said rationing would start on Tuesday, but then Syabas said Thursday," said contractor Saifuddin Ahmad.


With climate change, we are likely to experience more record dry spells (“S’pore experiencing record dry spell - and it could get worse”; Tuesday).

We should never take our water supply for granted. The older generation will remember the hard times we had with water rationing and the constant threat of our supply being cut off by our neighbour.

All citizens, especially the young, must be reminded of how precious our water supply is, how to keep our waterways clean and clear of rubbish, and how to conserve and recycle water. A water rationing exercise is probably the best way to drive this message home.

Yeow Hwee Ming
ST Forum, 27 Feb 2014

Adequate water supply a result of Govt's foresight

THE current prolonged dry spell, which has also badly affected some states in Malaysia, brought about quite dissimilar reactions on either side of the Causeway ("S'pore experiencing record dry spell - and it could get worse"; Tuesday).

National water agency PUB has been pumping massive amounts of Newater into our reservoirs to maintain water levels.

Thus, Singaporeans can go about their daily activities without worrying that their water supply may be cut off due to dangerously low water levels at our reservoirs.

But some Malaysian states have had to ration water ("Selangor to ration water; other states may follow suit"; Tuesday).

Thousands wait for water trucks to arrive with the precious commodity, which is sufficient for only cooking, drinking and, possibly, washing.

In 1998, the Singapore Government understood the critical need to act decisively to ensure Singaporeans will have an adequate supply of potable and non-potable water in the event of long droughts or other emergencies.

At the same time, some top Malaysian politicians threatened to cut off the raw water supply to Singapore when it suited their political agendas.

Our initial forays into Newater met with derision and even contempt from some Singaporeans. PUB had its work cut out to educate the public that Newater was safe to drink.

Currently, the four Newater plants and two desalination plants, which turn seawater into potable water, have allowed Singapore to obtain water using non-traditional methods.

Both initiatives, which involved huge capital outlays, were carried out only after years of meticulous study into their viability.

With hindsight, Singaporeans can take comfort in the fact that the Government had the determination, wherewithal and foresight to continually seek long-term solutions to problems.

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