Phuket History: Look back at the island’s changing climate

PHUKET: Climate change is becoming a big issue in our modern world. Changing temperatures are causing extreme weather conditions, and such changes are being noticed throughout the world.

The Arctic ice caps are melting at an alarming rate and sea levels are predicted to rise even faster in coming years. Not only is the climate changing throughout the world, but it is changing far more rapidly than we could have imagined.

Tropical storms and cyclones are intensifying in strength every year, and often the worst hit areas are the poorest countries. Although the causes of global warming have been linked to human activity and greenhouse gases, the findings are still a matter of heated debate. Still, few can deny the reality of climate change and the toll it is taking on human lives and property.

But if climate change is happening on a global scale, has the climate in Phuket been changing as well in recent decades? To answer that question, we have to look back and see what weather conditions were like in Phuket several years ago.

Recently I stumbled across a set of data on a website called TuTiempo.net. The website keeps a record of Phuket’s historical weather conditions, dating back to the year 1973. A closer look at the figures reveals a startling find.

One of the first things you can immediately point out is that temperatures in Phuket have been on the rise since the 1970s, especially in the last decade. The average annual temperature in Phuket in 1973 was only 28 degrees Celsius. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the hottest yearly average only reached 28.4 degrees Celsius.

In the last decade, the year 2004 averaged 28.7 degrees, 2006 averaged 28.5, 2009 averaged 28.5, 2010 averaged 29.1 and 2011 averaged 28.6. It turns out that in the past three years, we have recorded some of the highest temperatures in Phuket, since we started keeping records.

The data also shows that it has been raining a lot more in Phuket in recent decades. During the seventies, average rainfall on the island was around 2,000 millimeters per year. During the eighties, average rainfall was around 2,300 millimeters per year. During the nineties, the figure had risen to roughly 2,500 millimeters. In the last decade, more than 2,800 millimeters of rain fell on the island every year on average.

Astoundingly, from the beginning of 2010 until the end of 2011, the amount of rain exceeded 3,000 millimeters per year. That means over the past 40 years, we have seen a 30 per cent increase in the amount of rainfall over Phuket. It’s not surprising that floods, rare as they were, are now happening more and more often in Phuket during the rainy season.

Not only are we dealing with more rainfall each year, thunderstorms are also happening more frequently than ever before.

According to data, during the seventies, thunderstorms only occurred around 50 times every year, on average. However, during the 1980s, it happened roughly 57 times a year in Phuket. During the 1990s, that number had risen to 65.

Most dramatically, during the last decade, we experienced 74 days of thunderstorms in Phuket each year on average.

Average wind speeds in Phuket have also been increasing. Not only are thunderstorms happening more often, they seem to be intensifying as well. From the beginning of 2010 through to the end of 2011, we have had an average of 75 thunderstorms per year in Phuket.

Just like the cyclones and tropical storms that occur elsewhere, each time they happen they damage infrastructure, take their toll on property and endanger human lives on the island and out at sea.

Those of us who have been in Phuket long enough will agree that weather conditions here are indeed intensifying.

Some factors, like temperature increases, may not be apparent, but the increasingly destructive storms and floods are becoming more difficult for islanders to ignore.

Each year, we see more accidents happening due to bad weather. Landslides are becoming a common sight. Such effects are not only felt in Phuket.

Last year Bangkok and much of central Thailand was submerged under flood waters for months, due to weeks of relentless rain.

Earlier this year, several areas in Phuket, including Phuket Town experienced their fair share of flooding.

It is hard to predict whether climate conditions will become more extreme in the coming years, but from what we have experienced in the past few decades, it will not hurt us to be prepared.

— Anand Singh

Thai Life
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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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