Bangkok in Rainy Season

For nearly six months of the year, from May through October, Thailand experiences the monsoon season. It has its own rhythms, its own challenges and its own joys.

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Much of the time, rainy season days are humid in the morning as the pavement dries out after overnight rain. The skies are mostly blue and the fresh air provides no filter to the sunlight, which bakes anyone unfortunately enough to be outside the shade like ants under the magnifying glass of a cruel, petulant child.

As the day progresses, cumulonimbus clouds build like fluffy albino cotton candy reaching into the stratosphere. They darken over the afternoon, their shade growing ever more menacing. Often, one half of the sky will still be sunny and blue while the other half will be an advancing, sheer wall of dark grey.

Once the wind picks up, you know that it is just a matter of minutes – at most a half-hour – before the rain starts to fall. Often, this happens in a fierce opening of the heavens, fire hoses turned on full force, a deluge turning roads to canals and canals to lakes. The torrent can just as rapidly cease, leaving the temperatures considerably cooler and, if the clouds vanish, the stars clearly visible even in a city with so much light pollution.

Sometimes, though, the rain stays around at varying degrees of intensity, snarling traffic, stranding pedestrians and leaving behind flooded sois (alleys) that take hours to drain. Thankfully, this does not happen too often and when it does, you just alter your plans and either stay in (if you were caught at home) or stay out (if you had not yet made it home).

Patience is called for.

The joy of rainy reason comes in the moderately cooler weather – each degree of reduction is appreciated – and the breezes. This year, while our rainfall has been heavy, there has been minimal flooding. The greatest joy of rainy season is the cool season that follows it, though.

Rainy Season Finally Arrives

This has been an unusually dry monsoon season in Thailand. So much so, that much of the country has been suffering from drought. September is typically the rainiest month by far, and true to form, it brought relief from the dry weather.

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For the most part, the rains have been tolerable. Sometimes heavy, but none of the severe flooding that torrential monsoon rains are known for. Our soi (small street) is prone to flooding after as little as 30 minutes of heavy rain. So far, there has been no need to put on the waders!

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The thing I like best about the rainy season is the cloudy, overcast weather. It amazes me, how much cooler the temperatures are when we are not baking in the direct sun. This time of year is also breezy, which helps keep temperatures more tolerable.

Now that October has arrived, the rains should decrease in frequency and by November, the relatively cooler “cool season” will arrive. This coincides with the start of a new job, which I will take as an auspicious sign.

 

Rainy Season in Bangkok

About six months of the year. That’s how long our rainy season lasts here in Thailand. Starting in May and concluding in October, nearly every day sees some precipitation. 

A typical Bangkok afternoon this time of year looks like this. Big, ferocious clouds darken the skies. They move quickly, forming close to the ground like wisps of steam in reverse. The wind begins to pick up, a sure sign that rain is imminent. In fact, with the picture above, while I had a good view at least a kilometer down the tracks, within ten seconds (literally) of taking this picture, the rain had started and within thirty seconds, the view had diminished to what you see in the following picture.

The rain came down with such force that visibility was reduced to just a few hundred meters. Anything beyond that was lost in the grey mists. Thankfully, I was at the Skytrain station and could sought shelter. 

The intensity of our storms is often matched by a surprising brevity. I boarded the train within two minutes of the storm starting. It took eight minutes to travel west four stations (less than six kilometers). I exited at Phloen Chit finding the rain finished, very wet pavement and large puddles the only signs of its visit. That is the nature of our rainy season – one corner of town will receive a downpour and another corner is enjoying sunshine.

 

In terms of volume, there are peaks at either end of the season. So far this year, we have had pretty normal rainfall. Look out for September, though! While this amount of rain would probably drive lots of people (except those from Seattle) crazy, I actually like the rainy season. Yes, there are the flooded streets and the torrential rains for which an umbrella does absolutely no good. But the cloudy skies offer a respite from the otherwise cruel sun and the breeze usually picks up, helping lower the ambient temperature.

 

A Brief Thunderstorm Video

September is the heart of rainy season in Bangkok. Far more rain falls in this month than any other. Last night at about 1:00, we were awakened by a loud thunderstorm that stubbornly stayed overhead for a half-hour. A few days ago, I had to take off my shoes and roll up my pants legs to get out of the taxi because my street was flooded after an hour of heavy rain.

A few weeks ago I was stuck in traffic and watched as these storm clouds formed out of thin air, close to the ground. They looked like smoke but were the result of the heat and moisture in the air. Very ominous, no? Not a minute after shooting this video, the torrential rain started to pour.

 

Rainy Season Brings Early Flooding

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Once again, rainy season has arrived in Thailand. The skies fill with ominous, dark clouds and once the wind picks up you know you have just a few minutes in which to seek shelter, otherwise you will be drenched by the downpour. While the rain usually follows a consistent schedule, arriving in the late afternoon and early evening, Thursday morning the rain rebeled, giving us two hours of heavy rain at dawn followed by another two hours of drizzle.

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That was too much for the drainage system to handle and our end of the soi (small road) flooded quickly. Sidewalks were covered by a few inches and water in the road was deep enough to stall a few cars.

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The security and maintenance staff at our condo erected a barrier of sandbags, trying to minimize the amount of water that flowed into the first level of the car park.

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Despite their efforts, the entire ground floor was wet.The basement level was flooded a few inches deep as the sump pump struggled to clear the water. The elevators were out of service once the mechanical rooms were breached by the water.

While most of the city recovered pretty quickly from the heavy rains, the morning commute was a mess and by late afternoon, several areas still had standing water. Just wait until September and October, the months when the rain is generally the heaviest!

 

Flooding in Thailand

You have perhaps heard that since August, Thailand has been coping with the worst flooding the country has experienced in 50 years.  From the far north in Chiang Mai and other mountainous provinces, through the central plains, and now down to the region closest to the Gulf of Thailand, the country has experienced widespread destruction.  At least 297 people have died, 700,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and estimates are that the waters could wind up costing the country US$5 billion, or about 1% of GDP. 

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The region currently affected is the southern half of the Central Plains, the rice bowl of Thailand.  Nearly 15 million acres have been flooded, of which 3.4 million acres are farmland.  The above graphic shows flooded areas in light blue.  As you can see, the province of Ayutthaya, home to the ruins of the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam, is the most severely affected.

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Many of the major ruins, temples, and historical sites in Ayutthaya have been affected by flood waters, some areas more than 2 meters deep.  The United Nations is sending teams to help survey the UNESCO World Heritage sites and offer assistance.

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The muddy waters of the Chao Phraya river cannot easily be contained, sweeping into cities and villages along its banks.  Most of central Thailand is low-lying land.  There are signs that those who live upriver from Bangkok feel that their land has been sacrificed in the name of keeping Bangkok safe.  Since the last major flooding in Bangkok in 1995, extensive measures have been put in place to reduce the risk of flooding for the capital.  One of those measure is the deliberate flooding of farmland in the provinces north of the city, the so-called “monkey cheeks” approach.  Without a doubt, the impact of flooding farmland is much less than the impact of flooding major cities.  Nonetheless, that is cold comfort for the familes directly impacted by those policies.

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Unfortunately, the flooding has not been limited to farmland.  Between Ayutthaya and Bangkok lie many industrial parks, home to manufacturing centers for companies from around the globe.  As an example, Honda’s factory, which accounts for some 5% of its global production, was flooded.  Pictured above, new Honda cars sit in the factory’s parking lot, some submerged and others partially floating.

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Fortunately, most of Bangkok has thus far avoided the worst of it.  Some of the northern districts, near the old Don Meuang Airport and Rangsit, have been affected, although not nearly as bad as elsewhere in the country.  Our neighborhood, which is near an area at risk for flooding, is bracing for the next five days or so, until the surge that is coming down the river has safely passed the city. 

A knee-high wall of sandbags has been erected around the base of our condo building.  We have stocked up on bottled water, canned food, and other necessities.  Supplies in the stores are low with many thinly-stocked shelves, a situation caused both by people stockpiling essentials but also because of disruptions in the supply chain.  In fact, Tawn reported today that Starbucks has run out of espresso beans, some cups, and napkins.  That, if anything, must be a sign of how bad it is!  (Only kidding…)

Fortunately, there was no rain today.  But there is an 80% chance of thunderstorms tonight and the rest of week looks stormy.  I hope it gets no worse and, for the more than half of Thai provinces affected by the flooding, that the situation rapidly improves.

 

After the Rains

It is rainy season here in Thailand and true to norm, September is proving to be the wettest month.  Almost every evening we have heavy rains here in Bangkok and we’re even having several days with on and off showers.  The air is cooler than normal, which is nice, but the humidity hasn’t been below 65% in two months.  Still, I prefer rainy season to the hot season.

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Here’s an audio clip I recorded last night about midnight after the rain had stopped.  Various creatures are croaking and chirping in the background as the occassional drop falls from one palm frond to the next.