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El Niño - La Niña and Rainfall or Lack Thereof

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After several years of searching for ideal sites to initiate the EcoCulture projects of Kalikasan-Philippines, our group was able to purchase in late 2013 and early 2014 farmlands in San Tomas, Naguilian; and Malalam, Ilagan. We elicited also a lot of interest from our relatives to have their farmlands used for our projects. The most promising are the Eugenio-Magano farms in Cadu and Ballacong, Ilagan, and Lumban, Laguna. Our on-going seminal projects; and some of our short-term and long-terms plans are outlined in the  Kalikasan-Philippines website.

However, in early in 2014, there was much buzz of the coming of an El Niño (visit articles included here). It was supposed to be very strong, and this would mean severe drought in the Philippines. 

Impact of El Niño/La Niña with Rainfall Intensity
Fig. 01. Impact of El Niño/La Niña with Rainfall Intensity. There are a number of parameters evaluated before a forecast of an El Niño or La Niña is made public (visit other articles here for more details). NOAA Climate Prediction Center uses one of these parameters, the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI), to record El Niño or La Niña events. The El Niño or La Niña events are colored RED and BLUE, respectively.
Briefly, there must be at least six (6) months with consecutive ONI values that exceed +0.5oC or -0.5oC to declare officially an El Niño or La Niña event. A strong El Niño or La Niña event would have values greater than  +0.5oC or lower than -0.5oC, respectively.  Months that have consecutive ONI values within the  +0.5oC to -0.5oC range is called "La Nada". N.B. The period shown above in Fig. 01A does not cover more recent  Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) because I have no access yet to the rainfall data needed for the correlation analysis.

 

I visited the Philippines for six month (March to September 2014), in part to evaluate the potential impact of El Niño on our Kalikasan-Philippines projects. Indeed there were the expected signs that come with El Niño -- very high temperatures (some days as high as 40oC), the expected rains to start by May to July were quite short (lasting an hour or so) and only about six (6) such precipitations each month (May-July) even near end of the dry season.  By late July and thereafter, there should be more frequent and long-duration rainfall, but there were only a few and far in-between.

Fig. 01A shows that an El Niño or La Niña could have a duration of at least six (6) months or could last several years. One of cousins, who is a farmer, planted corn in early June 2014, but the young corn plants died eventually because of the scarcity of rain the weeks following the planting. In contrast, farmers who planted corn earlier (after the initial rains in May 2014 arrived) have robust corn plants growth, and some were able to harvest sweet corn before I left the Philippines.

These uncertainties of an impending El Niño, especially its strength and unknown duration, led us to delay the massive initiation of our full farm EcoCulture projects, since the farms were not ready yet to cope with long term drought. 

What was surprising and inconsistent with an El Niño event was the number of tropical typhoons and depressions that developed in the Philippines in 2014, some causing significant damages to different regions in the country.  This was not what was expected during a strong El Niño.  

This led to the question: Is there enough rainfall during the August-December season (the normal rainy season) even during the development of a strong El Niño?

Our initial findings indicate a correlation -- in general, lower precipitation during El Niño, and higher precipitation during La Niña. However, it appears that there are other climatic phenomena, e.g., typhoons, Intertropical Convergence Zone (IZC), etc., in the Pacific region that would impact the intensity(or scarcity) of rainfall, even during the development of a strong El Niño.