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!

 

Sitting here at my computer, even though it is early afternoon the sunny sky has turned as dark as dusk.  The wind picks up from dead stillness, rushing through the bedroom balcony and slamming shut the bathroom door before leaving through the living room windows in a furry. 

After that brief outburst the stillness returns and the air feels as if it is solidifying.  If I wave my hand through it quickly enough, I imagine that water will condense in its wake.

Then the first few drops fall on the open windows, splatting against the panes with ripe fullness before the intensity can no longer be held back and the storm lets go its torrents.

 

Spontaneous Singing in the Boarding Area

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Above: Not quite 5:00 in the afternoon and yet the sky is dark as a storm consumes the central part of downtown Khrungthep.  Picture taken from the Thong Lo station looking northwest.

P1060633 According to the guides, charts and historical patterns, we’re a little bit ahead of the normal rainfall for May, which as I understand it, marks the first of the two monsoons (the other is in September, the wettest month by far).  For the better part of the past two weeks we’ve had daily rains.  Not just the late afternoon thunderstorms mind you, but drizzly, temperamental rains that come at all hours of the day and night.  Our power cut out twice yesterday evening and once again while we slept last night, waking us up a while later when the unconditioned room became too warm because the air conditioner had been reset by the power interruption.

The rains are okay by me as they keep the temperatures cooler, especially with the dark clouds blocking out the tropical sun.  Sure, you have to plan a bit so you don’t get caught on the back of a motorsai without protection, as Tawn did on his way home this evening.  Actually, he had protection, but he sacrificed his sweater to wrap his bag.

 

I encountered this funny advertisement on, of all things, airliners.net.  It is for a British travel website called lastminute.com and as far as I can tell from a bit of research, the advertisement is exactly what it appears to be: a Candid Camera-type moment in which a group of professional actors conduct an ad hoc musical performance in the waiting area at London’s Stansted Airport to the surprise and amusement of those in the lounge.

From my perspective, this is pretty much the story of my life: breaking out in spontaneous song to drive my personal story line forward.  Does that happen to you?

 

A weather momento of my grandparents

P1050999 Yes, as the thermometer shows, it is hot season.  And just like hot season anywhere in the tropics, heat comes with rain which the humidity gauge (what do you call them, humidimeters?) shows, too. 

Interestingly, we’ll get more of the rain when rainy season begins around late June so don’t let this 100% humidity scare you away.  It does get worse!  Or, at least, wetter.

There is a little story behind this retro-fifties combo temperature and humidity gauge.  This hung in the Merriam, Kansas home of my paternal grandparents for as long as I can remember. 

Being midwesterners, the weather was always a topic of interest and concern.  Letters and phone calls pretty quickly addressed the recent and current state of the weather, often offering comparisons to extremes set in previous years:

“Lots of rain, the most we’ve had since the spring of ’73…”

“Don’t recall a snow before Halloween except that October after we moved into the house..”

On the coasts, where people see themselves as so much more sophisticated than the people in “flyover country”, the arrival of weather as a topic is a clichéd sign that the conversation is about to die a sudden death or get bogged down like a superpower in a third world nation.  Not so in the midwest, where weather is front and center in the evening newscast and equally prominent in conversation and correspondence.

Now that I’m here in Thailand, I miss those detailed weather reports.  I know there is more going on than, “Very hot with a chance of rain.”  I feel a breeze… is that a low pressure system?  From where?  How can people live without knowing?

In the final fourteen months before I left the US for Thailand, I lived in my grandmother’s house.  By then she was in assisted living until she passed away three years ago this summer, preceeded by my grandfather fifteen years before that.  As we cleaned up the house and sorted through their things, this thermometer struck me as a small keepsake that would remind me of my grandparents.  It was also a little piece of my fourteen months of being a Kansan.