S'pore experiencing record dry spell - and it could get worse

SINGAPORE - The nearly month-long dry spell from Jan 13 to Feb 8 has gone down in history as the country's worst since extensive data recording began five decades ago, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Barely any rain fell in Singapore for those 27 consecutive days, comfortably dwarfing the previous record, an 18-day dry spell in 2008.

Though brief showers on Feb 8 and Feb 9 ended the dearth and brought respite to parched parks and gardens islandwide, the lack of rain has persisted. Apart from again short-lived showers in western Singapore on Feb 16, the island has seen no rain since.

The dry weather is "likely to persist into the first half of March", the NEA predicted, which could set another record. The Meteorological Service Singapore defines a dry spell as a period of more than 14 days with less than 1mm of rain.

Drier weather is common at the end of the north-east monsoon, usually from February until early March. The recent lack of rain is in part because the dry phase of the north-east monsoon set in during the middle of January, earlier than usual, the NEA has said.

Just 75.4mm of rain last month and 0.2mm this month to date was recorded at NEA's Changi climate station, compared to the long-term averages of 242.4mm and 161mm respectively. "This is definitely out of the ordinary," said National University of Singapore weather researcher Winston Chow.

But "abnormal" and extreme weather patterns like this could be more common in the long term due to climate change, he added. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of the same in its latest report last year, which drew from the conclusions of scientists and politicians from 195 countries.

"The concern is that these uncommon weather events may be happening more frequently sooner rather than later," said Professor Chow. He noted that in recent months, the United States has been hit by unusually freezing weather, Australia by extreme heat and Britain by devastating storms and floods.

The NEA also said "climate change increases the risks of both wetter and drier extremes", but that further studies were needed to investigate exactly how this would affect Singapore. National water agency PUB has been pumping 20 million to 25 million gallons of Newater a day since late last month into reservoirs to maintain their water levels. Last week, it raised this to 30 million gallons, a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the National Parks Board said it has started to water flora in parks and along roads, which is showing "symptoms of water stress". Malaysia is also grappling with one of its driest spells in years, with some states declaring a water crisis and planning cloud seeding this week. Selangor has started rationing water and other states might do the same.

The dry weather has also worsened hot spots from fires in Indonesia's Riau province, with 1,234 hot spots detected yesterday, reported The Jakarta Post.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.