Friday, September 22, 2017

Nation shivers through ‘significant’ cold front

Yangon residents walk through the downtown area on March 10, the start of a week-long spell of wintry weather.  (Hein Latt Aung / The Myanmar Times / March 21, 2011)Yangon residents walk through the downtown area on March 10, the start of a week-long spell of wintry weather.  (Hein Latt Aung / The Myanmar Times / March 21, 2011)

Myanmar suffered through the coldest March weather in decades last week, with maximum daily temperatures falling as much as 18 Celsius below the March average in some regions.

The Department of Meteorology and Hydrology said the cold front – which was accompanied by untimely rain in Yangon and some other areas – was caused by a high pressure system in China, which brought cool air down from the north, combined with the persisting La Niña weather system.

The front affected most states and regions, with maximum day temperatures in Yangon, Ayeyarwady, Magwe, Bago, Mandalay and Sagaing regions and Shan, Kayah, Kayin Mon and Kachin states 9-18C below average on March 16.

In Chin and Rakhine states temperatures were 8C below average, while in the relatively warm climes of Tanintharyi Region temperatures were 5C below the March average.

In Yangon on March 16 the maximum temperature was just 22C, following a chilly evening that saw the mercury drop to just 16C, while Pathein in Ayeyarwady Region recorded a maximum of just 19C. Stations in both northern and eastern Shan State recorded a maximum of 16C, while in Taunggyi the high was 18C.

A department official described the weather system as “one of the most significant weather events” since department records began in 1948.

“We haven’t seen weather like this in March before, where it is so cold that we have to wear warm clothes. Normally in March temperatures are close to their average and the maximum difference is about 5-6C. This is the first time we’ve seen such significant decreases in temperature in March in the more than 20 years that I’ve been working for the department,” he said. “We don’t keep records for minimum temperatures but we’re pretty sure this would be the coldest March weather in the department’s history.”

In downtown Yangon on March 16 vendors bemoaned the bad weather, which left them both uncomfortable and out of pocket.

Ma Aster, a 38-year-old betel seller based on Bo Aung Kyaw Street in Kyauktada township, said the weather had kept most customers away.

“There are not many people on the streets and no one has bought any betel yet. Some vendors stopped selling their goods and went back home and I think I’ll also go back home early today because I’m afraid to do business in bad weather,” she said. “Some concrete pieces fell down from the building behind me because of the rain and the weather is making me shiver – it feels colder than winter. The rain drops are so cold, especially with the strong wind.”

Ko Thura, a 19-year-old mohinga seller on Bogyoke Aung San Road, said he would also go home early, whether he’d sold all his food or not.

“I have had very few customers today. I haven’t seen weather like this in summer since I arrived in Yangon from my native Monywa about two years ago. Today I didn’t bring any warm clothes, I’m so cold,” he said.

U Thint Lwin, a trishaw driver on Anawrahta Street, said he had earned only K1000 for the day, despite waiting for passengers in the cold until 4:30pm.

“I want to make at least K2000 before going home. I earned just K2500 yesterday (March 15). I have worked many times before in the rain but I have never experienced such difficult conditions,” he said in a shaky voice.

In Bago the mercury barely broke 20C on March 16, after temperatures fell to 15C the previous evening.

U Wunna, a 55-year-old resident of Bago’s Gaunge Say Kyun quarter, said he and other people in the town had been forced to pull their warm clothes from the wardrobe.

“We can’t bathe because the water is so icy cold and have taken all our warm clothes from the wardrobe. The cold weather has lasted for about two or three days but I don’t know exactly why the situation suddenly changed from summer to freezing cold. Maybe it is evidence of climate change,” he suggested on March 17.

The low temperatures were accompanied by strong winds and “early pre-monsoon” rain, which began on March 10 and was expected to continue until March 18, the meteorology department official said.

The heaviest one-day falls in Yangon occurred on March 16, when 1.81 inches was recorded at both the Mingalardon and Kabar Aye stations, while Ye township in Tanintharyi Region received 4.29 inches on March 15, the department said.

The Mingalardon, Kabar Aye and Central Yangon stations received 3.82 inches, 4.92 inches and 3.19 inches respectively from March 10 to 16.

The official attributed the untimely rain to the lingering La Niña weather system, which is expected to remain in effect until the end of May.

“A combination of warm air from the Gulf of Thailand and cold air from the north formed a series of rain-producing clouds. These weather conditions sometimes happen in March but not every year. There are rain clouds developing in the Bay of Bengal because of the La Niña system and so we have early pre-monsoon rain this year. But we can’t expect the monsoon to arrive early because of [La Niña],” he said.

The official said more convective rain and thunderstorms, especially in coastal areas, were expected for the remainder of the pre-monsoon season, which runs until about the last week of May.

Meanwhile, strong winds damaged some houses in Yangon and Ayeyarwady regions on March 11, the Myanmar Red Cross Society said, but no casualties were reported.

An official from the society’s Disaster Management Division said strong winds knocked down 17 houses in Kyun Thar Yar village in Bogale township, Ayeyarwady Region, while the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported that 16 houses were destroyed in Aye village of Kayan township, 94 houses in North Dagon and 38 huts in South Dagon. In Ayeyarwady Region, about 20 houses collapsed in the strong wind in Tayokchaung village, Bogale township.

The unusual weather conditions left many wondering whether a storm was forming in the Bay of Bengal, said Dr Tun Lwin, a former director general of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology.

Last week he posted on his website that “Is a storm developing?” was the most frequently asked weather question of late.

In an announcement published in state media on March 15, the department stated that although it is not storm season “[w]eather processes such as untimely rain or thundershowers, isolated strong wind, thunder and lightning may occur” and the department “will issue [news and warnings] in time” if a storm begins to form.