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El Nino-induced drought cuts Bangkok's Songkran water fights short

By By Kristina Pydynowski, senior meteorologist
April 13, 2016, 7:02:34 AM EDT

Relief is expected to come to drought-stricken Thailand this summer, but not until after water restrictions cut the much-anticipated Songkran festival in Bangkok short.

Also known as the Thailand water festival, Songkran occurs throughout Thailand in mid-April as the country celebrates the traditional Thai New Year. Celebrations feature massive water fights in many communities.

“Traditionally, Thais would politely pour a bowl of water on members of the family, their close friends and neighbours [during Songkran],” stated.

This symbolizes the washing away of misfortunes from the previous year.

“As Songkran has taken a more festive note, bowl becomes a bucket, garden hose and water guns, and the spirit of holiday merriment is shared amongst all town residents and tourists alike,” the website said.


The fact that the country is in the midst of a drought has forced officials to put restrictions on much-anticipated water fights in Bangkok.

National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT) reported that the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) decided to reduce Songkran festivities in the city to only three days, instead of four, spanning 12-14 April. Water play in each area will be stopped at 9 p.m. daily.

"Central World Department Store has agreed to cooperate with the BMA in its conservation effort and has cancelled its water tunnel and 24-hour water station services," NNT reported.

The theme of the festival this year will be "Traditional Songkran, Valuing Conservation" to encourage a reduction in water usage.

Thailand is in the midst of a drought following rainfall shortages in many areas in 2015. For some parts of the country, rainfall deficits started in 2014.

Detailed forecast for Bangkok
Thailand weather center
Asia spring forecast: Drought to persist in Southeast Asia

According to data obtained by the Thai Meteorological Department, rainfall averaged across the country in 2015 was 11 percent below normal.

The country also tied its 2010 record for the second warmest year in 65 years of record-keeping, with an annual mean temperature of 27.9 C (82.2 F).

The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation reported on 6 April that 5.6 percent of all villages across Thailand were suffering from water shortages, according to Bangkok Post. A total of 16 large reservoirs throughout the nation, mainly in northeastern Thailand, were storing water less than 30 percent of total capacity.

On 8 April, the Royal Irrigation Department assured the public that there will be enough water for Songkran revelers. NNT reports the department declared that the water levels in four major dams of the Chao Phraya River are "enough for domestic consumption and sustaining ecosystems until July."

The Chao Phraya River is one of two main sources of Bangkok's tap water.


Several weather patterns, including El Niño, contributed to the ongoing drought in Thailand.

The main reason for the drought this past year was the onset of a strong El Niño coupled with cooler-than-normal water in the tropical eastern Indian Ocean during late summer and fall, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls.

The combination of the two typically leads to sinking air over southeastern Asia, including Thailand, which works against the development of rain and thunderstorms.

In addition, Nicholls stated that very few tropical systems impacted Thailand in 2014 or 2015. Despite threatening to cause immediate flooding and, in southern Thailand, damaging winds, tropical systems produce abundant rainfall that can fill reservoirs and rivers.

Drought relief is on the horizon for Thailand, but it will not come until after another slow start to the monsoon.

"El Niño will be weakening, but some residual atmospheric impacts should help keep April and May drier than normal," Nicholls said.

That is not good news as an extreme heat wave will have a firm grip on Thailand through Songkran, creating hazards for residents and visitors and further exacerbating the drought.

"Through at least the middle of April, there will be no meaningful relief from the heat," AccuWeather Meteorologist Jim Andrews said. "Once extreme heat is in place before a tropical rainy season, it can be persistent for a matter of weeks before the rains actually arrive."

"There could be a hiccup and the heat steps down before the end of the month, but the heat will not fully break until the true onset of the monsoon and its rains, which typically occurs in May."


When the monsoon returns this summer, Nicholls anticipates improving rainfall as the effects of El Niño continue to fade and the waters in the tropical eastern Indian Ocean become warmer than normal.

"I suspect rainfall in June is close to normal in the southern third of Thailand," Nicholls said. "The rest of the country will likely still be drier than normal, but wetter than June 2015."

"July to September has a better chance to be wetter than normal, especially in August and September."

A turn to much-needed wet weather may also come at the hands of tropical systems.

"As the ocean waters in the western Pacific warm this summer, there can be improved chances for a tropical system to impact Thailand in the late summer or fall," Nicholls said. "That is something that has been largely absent over the past couple of years."

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