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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.  


 Rainwater Harvesting.

The peaks and troughs in the rainfall patterns (blue bars and red trend lines, Fig. 02B), reflect a regular cycle of high volume of precipitation during the rainy season (peaks) and scarce rain during the dry season (troughs), for the region indicated in the figure. However, even in the most severe El Niño, for at least four different regions we have analyzed so far, there is enough precipitation during the rainy season that potentially can be harvested for use during the long dry season.

 

 

El Niño/La Niña anf Rainfall Intensity
Fig. 02. El Niño/La Niña and Rainfall Intensity.

 


 Limits to Growth

These observations in the previous sections raise the question:

  1. How can ALL the excess rainwater during the rainy season be harvested, treated, and stored for use during the dry season -- for human consumption, farm production, livestock husbandry, and, aquaculture? 
  2. Will there be enough water in the event of a very strong and prolonged El Niño?

Finding the answers and solutions to this question is one of the main long term goals of  Kalikasan-Philippines.

 

This is crucial because the Philippines now has a population of more than 100 million, that may grow further to 170-200 million within this century. 

 

Historical and Projected Population Growth of the Philippines
Fig. 03. Historical and Projected Population Growth of the Philippines.

 

Unfortunately, the Philippines has a land area of just about 30 million hectares.  

 

Agricultural Lands Changes-1960-2002
Agricultural Lands Changes-1960-2002

 

 


 2014-2015 El Niño?

As it turned out, the much anticipated El Niño has so far not developed or behaved as forecasters predicted, and may eventually become part of the continuum of the long La Nada; or perhaps the other term, El Limbo. This blog tries to rationalize why the predictions did not pan out

Do recent global precipitation anomalies resemble those of El Niño? 

One of the culprits is that the atmospheric conditions in the Pacific Ocean did not cooperate or react as it should to the observed sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the Niño3.4 region, an equatorial zone of the Pacific Ocean that is extensively monitored to gather evidence for some of the parameters to predict an El Niño event. Watch the video in:

November Climate Briefing: El Limbo 

and this article 

January ENSO update: The little engine that couldn't quite

 


El Niño and Rainfall
El Niño and Rainfall. Expected rainfall and dry weather pattern worldwide during an El Niño.