Friday, June 12, 2009

Rainy season

One of the biggest differences we’ve had to adjust to here is the weather. Sure, we knew that it was going to be hot or hotter most of the time, and humid all of the time. And we had heard about “rainy season.” But no matter how much you prepare yourself, you still have to experience rainy season to fully appreciate it. It’s kind of like going to the Indy 500. You might have seen it on TV many times, but you still can’t believe how fast the cars really are until you go to Indy and see the race for yourself.

Having grown up in Minnesota and having lived in Michigan for the past 27 years, we were used to a much more intense seasonal cycle. Steve was recently asked by someone on Corregidor, “Is it rainy season now in America?” He had to explain that for most, if not all, of the United States the term does not apply.

We are used to a four season cycle, with summer essentially running from June through August, winter from December through February, and with fall and spring filling in the gaps. Although summer is mostly hot, there is no guarantee on any particular day. One day the high temperature can be 96 and sunny and the next day a rainy 56, miserably cold and wet feeling. The same applies during winter, when it is normally cold; one day it can be 30 below zero and the next day a balmy 40, a 70 degree swing.

Not so here. Temperatures are very consistent from day to day. The high temperature in mid April is going to be very close to 95 year after year, the nighttime low around 80. It never gets cold here, at least not on the thermometer. We have heard locals refer to it being “very cold” when it is about 80 degrees, but windy and rainy. (We do pull out long pants and long-sleeved shirts for ourselves on those days.) The record low and high are only about 40 degrees apart. Compare that to Virginia, Minnesota, where the high and low temperatures for the year are closer to 150 degrees apart–record high of 103, record low of 46 below zero!

When we arrived here last October it was still technically rainy season. Most days it didn’t rain, but occasionally we had a fairly hard downpour. The weather was still dominated by what is called the “southwest monsoon.” Sometime in November the predominant wind shifted 180 degrees, to the “northeast monsoon,” which ushered in dry season. From that time until very recently the weather was basically dry and sunny, with only a couple of tropical depressions bringing any rain. Here they call the dry season summer. It feels weird to think of January as summer, and technically, since we are in the northern hemisphere it is winter, but it’s considered summer here from November or December through May.

Starting just a few days ago, things changed. The southwest monsoon returned. All of a sudden it was cloudy almost all day, every day, and the rains have set in. Where we have pretty much been able to forget about our solar system for the past six months–since the sun was doing the job–we are having to run our diesel generator an hour or two every day to recharge the batteries. What a difference between the silent panels and the extremely noisy genset. We try to run it when we are away from the house but sometimes when it’s raining we just have to bear with its racket.

The rain is often accompanied by high winds, with cloudy, calm periods in between. When the rain approaches you sometimes first hear the wind, other times you hear the rain, with a sound like a thundering herd as it approaches. One second it is calm and the next the wind and rain are slashing through the trees. Then after a few minutes or an hour, all of a sudden the rain abruptly stops and it is totally calm again. Once in a while you hear a tree branch come crashing down in the otherwise dead silence, a victim of too much weight from the rain.

One day last week we had a repeating pattern every 30 to 40 minutes. Cloudy and dead calm followed by a 5 to 10 minute period of high winds and torrential rains, only to be repeated. The next day it was just cloudy, and the following day it rained lightly all day. Then the next day we actually got to see the sun off and on and it was a very pleasant, though humid day.

The weather makes it very hard to dry our laundry. First we had the roof of our dirty kitchen extended to cover the clothesline, since we couldn’t depend upon enough dry weather to get the clothes dry before the next rain. And even with the covering, high winds sometimes drive the rain horizontally and get the clothes wet. One day the towels were wetter a few hours after hanging than when pulled out of the washing machine. The other challenge is the constant humidity. Just because the clothes are covered is no guarantee that they will dry in a reasonable amount of time, and no matter how long we wait they still seem to feel slightly damp.

Another thing is transportation. Our jeep has no doors other than plastic panels that can be rolled down and snapped in place, so now that it is rainy season we usually keep them down. The humidity can really steam up the windshield and the plastic, though, so we have to keep a towel on hand to wipe them so that we’re able to see to drive. If it’s raining at the time, we unhook the back edge and slide in under the plastic “doors”.

Now that it is wet our routine of hiking and exploring in the jungle whenever we feel like it has changed. We are pretty much confined to hiking on the paved roads and a couple of the better backwoods roads, such as the north access road that runs from our house, past Battery James, and down to the north beach area; and the south access road around Malinta Hill.

Also, this weather must make it difficult for Sun Cruises to plan and carry out day trips. During dry season they can run one or two trips almost every day, as long as they have enough passengers. Now they have to be careful to get passengers to Corregidor without a sudden weather change which would cause the Philippine Coast Guard to forbid boat travel, thereby stranding the guests here. On top of that, some groups and individuals undoubtedly cancel when they see that the weather might be bad. And you have to feel sorry for tourists who had planned to see Corregidor, only to have the boat trip canceled on the day in which they were planning to go. All in all we believe that Sun Cruises does an excellent job working around the weather.

It’s funny how a few days of clouds and rain can have its psychological effects. After only a couple of days of steady rain you start to have the feeling that it’s never going to stop. You have to keep reminding yourself that the sun will return, if only for a few minutes or a day, and that rainy season will also end one day.

Today is Philippine Independence Day. On June 12, 1898, 111 years ago today, the Philippines declared its independence from Spain, after 333 years of Spanish rule.

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