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.

 

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.

(Short video)

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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!

 

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.

 

Escape the Rains

A news report in Wednesday’s paper indicated that a weak La Niña system is building up in the western Pacific, which will result in heavier than normal rainfall throughout Asia.  Sure enough seems to be the case here in Bangkok where, despite reports of a severe drought in the northeast of the country, we have had quite a bit of rain to kick off rainy season. 

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Late Monday morning we had several hours of nonstop torrential rain, much more than we usually get at one time.  As you can see from the picture taken from my balcony, the soi (alley) on which we live was flooded enough to brush the undersides of passing taxis.

My poor maid was caught in the rain while eating lunch on her way from one of the other houses she cleans to our condo.  She was eating at a streetside vendor and stayed there under and umbrella, hoping to wait it out.  When the vendor asked where she was heading, he shook his head and told her that the area floods and that she had better head out right there and then, or else abandon all hope.

Sure enough, when she arrived at the condo she was soaked.  I told her that next time it is raining so hard she should just call and cancel; no need to brave the floods.  A bit later she pointed out that where she lives out by Sukhumvit Soi 101, the sois don’t flood.  With all the expensive condos around here, she tsked, the streets shouldn’t flood.

So much for location, location, location!

I’m headed to the airport.  Talk to you soon.

 

The Hottest Day is Doused

The Thai Meteorological Department announced that Monday April 27th would be the hottest day of the year, as it was the apex of the sun’s seasonal arc across Thailand.  As we inched towards that day the weather became hotter and hotter, leaving few doubts that their prediction would hold true.

But then in the midst of the high temperatures a few days before, the forecast began to crack: a high pressure system was descending from China and instead of the hottest day, the 27th would instead be a preview of the coming rainy season, which the department announced would officially begin May 15th.

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Sure enough, by lunchtime Monday the thunder and lightning was upon us and rain fell for nearly two hours in a steady downpour.  By the time I tried to return home I found our soi flooded.  This often happens when it rains as the city lies low and its water system struggles to handle a deluge, but it usually clears out quickly.

The water reached levels I have not seen in our two years here on the soi.  I couldn’t find a motorbike that would attempt to traverse the waters so I walked home, eventually up to my shins on the flooded sidewalks.

Here’s a video compilation of the storm set to a wonderful song, “Come In Out of the Rain” performed by Chicago jazz vocalist Audrey Morris.

 

Temps Hit Nine-Year Low

P1130505 As much as you folks in the further reaches of the Northern hemisphere may scoff at it, Thailand has been in the grip of a high pressure trough which has dropped down from China, bringing with it the chilly Siberian air. 

Temperatures Sunday night hit an nine-year low in Khrungthep: 15 C / 59 F.  The last time we were colder was on Christmas Day 1999: 13.2 C / 56 F while the coldest I could find on record was January 12, 1955 at 10 C / 50 F.

“Oh, that’s nothing!” scoffed one of Tawn’s former colleagues, a British expat still living in our tropical paradise.  “Thais don’t know what cold weather really is!”

Put it into perspective, though.  Our average low temperature in December and January is 21 C / 70 F.  So we’re significantly cooler than the norms and much cooler than I’ve experienced since I moved here in October 2005.  People aren’t used to this and even I closed the windows today for fear I would catch a chill from the cross-ventilation. 

Tawn even reported that one rider on the SkyTrain was wearing earmuffs, although that may be just because the air con is often quite cool on the train.  We would see this at the cinemas, too, but then the digital sound (which is cranked up to 10, by the way) would be muffled.

Thailand In Loei province, in the more mountainous north, the overnight low was 2 C / 36 F.  Provincial governors have been coordinating the emergency distribution of blankets.

And last night a monk in his 70s died from exposure in Ayutthaya, about ninety minutes by car north of Khrungthep.  He had only a knit cap and a jacket to add warmth to his robes, and was discovered in his cell by other monks when he failed to show up for the early morning alms collection rounds.

Speaking of knit caps and jackets, Tawn has dug deep into his closet and is enjoying this opportunity to layer and dress in a more wintry fashion.  Above, a wool vest purchased at Macy’s while in the US.  Below, an ascot and sportscoat keeps Tawn warm while enjoying his morning oatmeal on our balcony.

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Oatmeal isn’t the only cozy food we’re eating.  Last night I heated up the Dutch oven and cooked some split pea soup.  I’m perusing other hearty recipes that will help us get past this cold front until the warmer days of the hot season return.  Tis the season for braising!