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Volume 15, Number 17
November 17, 2009

nature

Also in this section:
November rain --- is it a boy or a girl?
All this stuff about 2012
Despite gains, women and girls still face worldwide health care discrimination
Sediments in the Gulf of Mexico, seen from on high



Photo by Eric Jackson

November rain --- boy or girl?


You were surprised by the intense flooding in some of the more upscale parts of Panama City on November 12? Neither the management of the Sheraton hotel nor the director of the SINAPROC disaster relief agency denied the heavy rains, but they both said that the main problem was a dysfunctional public storm drain system. They were right. November is a month of tropical downpours in Panama, and there's always some flooding. But now we have had a construction boom without any additions to the drainage infrastructure, and as part of the process, underground pipes that were part of the existing system have been crushed by heavy construction equipment in some places. And the denser population? It's dense in more ways than one --- too many people just don't get it about why it's stupid and destructive to throw litter into the storm drains.

And anyway, aren't we supposed to be in an El Niño year, in which we don't get so much rain?


Pacific Ocean temperatures, with red, yellow and orange warmer spots and blue and purple colder spots. What we see here is considered an El Niño effect. Digitally manipulated satellite photography by NASA

Well, that's an interesting question. As of last May, the middle of the Pacific Ocean was cooler than usual, which meant La Niña, the climatic effect that gives us more rain. But then by September the Central Pacific was warmer than usual and were thus said to be in an El Niño situation, often associated with droughts in Panama. This shift over the course of the summer is unusual, an example of the mess that global climate change is making of the weather and climate prediction models that were yesterday's conventional wisdom.

Whether we have more or less rain matters a great deal to Panama. Our principal industrial asset, the Panama Canal, depends on ample rainfall to operate the gravity-fed locks. In some El Niño years the canal has had to impose draft restrictions that limit the amount of cargo that a ship can carry through the waterway. Droughts, however, extend the production season for those in the Interior who dry seawater to produce salt. Usually farmers like lots of rain, but too much can wash away their crops --- or their homes --- and cause landslides that cut off the roads by which they get their produce to the market. Because we generate most of our power at hydroelectric dams, the mere threat of a drought has been exploited by electric companies to get the government to raise the rates --- but that's as much a function of public corruption as of the weather. The reality of a drought tends to bring us restrictions on the use of water and electricity.

So is it a boy, or is it a girl?

We are getting some torrential November rains, but then it does seem that we are getting a few more November days when it doesn't rain. The date when the wind starts blowing steady out of the north and the skies clear up --- the onset of dry season --- will be an important indicator of our weather pattern's gender. Usually that happens around Christmas, but if it's much earlier than that we will know this to be an unusual dry spell.


Also in this section:
November rain --- is it a boy or a girl?
All this stuff about 2012
Despite gains, women and girls still face worldwide health care discrimination
Sediments in the Gulf of Mexico, seen from on high


News | Economy | Culture | Opinion | Lifestyle | Nature
Noticias | Opiniones | Archive | Unclassified Ads | Home

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