THE “NEW NORM”
The sudden increased of heat temperature, heavy and excessive rainfall we are experiencing right now is part of what climate scientists call “the new norm.” This means we are experiencing weather extremes that are more widespread and harder to predict.
What is EXTREME CLIMATE VARIABILITY?
Climate variability refers to variations in the mean state and other climate statistics (standard deviations, the occurrence of extremes, etc.) on all temporal and spatial scales beyond those of individual weather events.
Climate change refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or anthropogenic forces.
As an archipelago of 7107 islands, no wonder the population of the Philippines is highly exposed to climatic variations, extreme climatic events, and climate-related hazards such as frequent typhoons, rising sea levels and the resulting risk in flooding.
The Global Climate Risk Index 2015 listed the Philippines as the number one most affected country by climate change, using 2013’s data. This is thanks, in part, to its geography. The Philippines is located in the western Pacific Ocean, surrounded by naturally warm waters that will likely get even warmer as average sea-surface temperatures continue to rise.
Other natural factors, like regional wind patterns or currents, can also increase the risk of tropical storms. Geography again plays a role here, as these factors affect different areas of the country differently, due to their unique circumstances. The graphic below from a report by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources shows how the various regions in the Philippines can face a range of climate threats, based on where they sit on the map.
“HEATWAVES AND HEAVY RAIN”
Heat Wave is a period of abnormally high temperatures, more than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during the summer season. Heat waves typically occur between March and June, and in some rare cases even extend till July. The extreme temperatures and resultant atmospheric conditions adversely affect people living in these regions as they cause physiological stress, sometimes resulting in death.
In the Philippines, the highest heat index touched a dangerous 51 degrees Celsius in Nueva Ecija last April 2016. The heat index of 51 degrees Celsius is just three degrees below what the weather bureau considers the “extreme danger” level when heatstroke is imminent according to PAGASA.
Rain occurs when the water held in warm, damp air condenses and falls. The primary difference between light rain and heavy rain is the amount of moisture that is present in the air mass, which is proportional to the size of the air mass. Typically, heavy rains are caused by pressure fronts, while lighter rains are caused by convective processes.
Heavy rainfall can cause extensive damage to people and property. Torrential downpours can cause widespread flooding and mudslides. Typhoons are normal occurrences in a tropical country like the Philippines, with about 20 typhoons hitting the country every year. Lately, however, the Philippines has been experiencing increasing torrential rains even without typhoons.
Developmental factors have made it difficult for the Philippines to prepare and respond to disasters. Evacuation plans, early-warning systems, and shelters are critical to dealing with extreme weather events. Warning and relocating thousands or millions of citizens when a storm is approaching would be a massive hurdle for any country – and in the case of a developing nation like the Philippines with nearly 100 million citizens spread out across thousands of islands, the hurdle becomes bigger still.
In building resilience to natural hazards, we need to ensure that the national and local governments are always prepared to respond to disasters and all sectors are engaged in disaster risk reduction.
This is not an easy problem to fix, but we need to try. The first step is educating citizens both in the Philippines and around the world about what the nation is facing, and about the practical clean-energy solutions available that can begin to address the harmful effects of climate change in the Philippines and beyond.