The month of March signals the beginning of sun-drenched activities for many Filipinos. It is also the time when flowers bloom more beautifully and plants are at their greenest. The northern hemisphere, on the other hand, experiences springtime while the southern hemisphere, autumn.
March is also “Fire Prevention Month” in the Philippines — a timely response to the start of the hot and dry season, The Bureau of Fire Protection takes the lead in conducting information and safety awareness campaigns, aimed at suppressing all kinds of destructive fires while keeping the public safe against their potential impact. This year’s theme is “Ligtas na Pilipinas Ating Kamtin, Bawat Pamilya ay Sanayin, Kaalaman sa Sunog ay Palawakin.”
Weak El Niño Underway
In addition to fires, March is also associated with the equally dreaded El Niño. Currently, a Weak El Niño is well underway in the Tropical Pacific, with relatively cooler sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. This will bring below-average rainfall across the Philippines beginning March, April, and May, with a possible shift to Neutral Climate Conditions around July, August, and September.
In the country, the state weather bureau Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration puts its warning at “El Niño Advisory”, with its impacts already underway with varying implications, according to its latest release, while the United Nations’ sanctioned World Meteorological Organization still at 75 to 80% chance for Weak El Niño event.
As of 28 February, PAGASA has issued its assessment on areas already experiencing lack of rain. They classify this as dry conditions, dry spell or drought, with Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro and Palawan having the likelihood of having drought, none yet was reported for the Visayas, and four (4) areas in Mindanao already identified: Zamboanga Del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Maguindanao and Sulu. Indeed, several areas of the country are already feeling its blistering effects: just a few days ago, a state of calamity was declared in Zamboanga City as crop losses reached P1 million.
A Weak El Niño will infuse more heat in several locations around the country over the next couple of months during the hot dry season (March through late May). With this in mind, there is no doubt that water scarcity will be a major concern, especially in non-irrigated areas, where the farming populace relies solely on rainfall which could be more and more scarce in the days ahead.
Already, several water utilities as early as February advised its water consumers to conserve water until the rains come in June, at the earliest. Furthermore, a Weak El Niño could also create an environment that is highly conducive for a fire to develop.
We may seem powerless against these elements, but we can prepare adequately and make the necessary actions before they hit our most vulnerable communities. Being an archipelagic region known for having vagaries in weather, even the most innocent-looking weather system can badly affect our communities. Preparing and acting properly will enable us to maximize knowledge and build a #WeatherWiser nation.
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–By Adonis S. Manzan
Typhoon Specialist, WeatherPhilippines Foundation, Inc.
07 March 2019