26 January 2016

Weather and El Nino: Fast Facts for Travellers to Asia in 2016

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With the changes in weather from El Nino in 2015 and early 2016, what will happen to Asia’s weather – and will it affect a visit to the region? We break down the facts about weather in early to mid-2016, and what you should keep in mind before you travel.

To many, “El Nino” is an ominous term that tends to strike fear into the hearts of world travellers. But what is El Nino, actually? And what are its effects in different parts of the world? How will it affect Southeast Asia and the prospects of traveling there in 2016?

The changes in weather in some parts of the United States will naturally have travellers wondering what the effects on other parts of the world will be – and if they should be changing their planned trip to Asia to another year. Thankfully, many of the changes that El Nino will cause in Asia might only go toward making your journey easier. This is our breakdown of what you need to know about the questions on many would-be travellers’ minds about El Nino in Southeast Asia 2016.

What is El Nino, anyway?

El Nino Asia Travel Tips
Red areas carry higher surface temperatures and precipitation.

Contrary to what many people think, El Nino isn’t actually created by global warming -not directly at least. Recent studies seem to agree that global warming certainly contributes to the increased frequency and intensity of El Nino. In itself, though, El Nino is a natural and cyclical phenomenon that occurs when warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures near the equator cause warm, moist air to rise off of the Pacific Ocean. While seemingly benign, this occurrence brings with it higher than average temperatures, increased precipitation, and often has global repercussions.

El Nino events are considered “strong” when sea-surface temperatures depart from the average by at least 2 degrees Celsius. Between November and December of 2015, the average departure approached 3 degrees. This is particularly problematic because, globally, we’re already experiencing higher than average temperatures and precipitation –even without a strong El Nino.

How will El Nino effect weather in Southeast Asia in 2016?

El Nino Asia Travel Tips 5
During the height of the 2015 haze crisis created by Indonesian slash-and-burn agriculture and exacerbated by dry conditions created by El Nino.

It’s not all gloom and doom, though. Many in the drought-affected west coast of the US, for example, welcomed the increase in rainfall and strangely warm winter weather that El Nino brought with it. Bizarrely, for a brief period of time the North Pole was even warmer than Southern California.

Across the pond (the Pacific Ocean), the effects of El Nino are a bit different. As a simple cause-and-effect of moisture being drawn out of the Pacific and dumped on to the Americas, Southeast Asia ends up being a bit drier than usual. As a general rule of thumb, Southeast Asia experiences more sporadic rainfall during El Nino years –with the caveat of this being that, when it does rain, it tends to rain harder.

So if you’re heading to Asia in 2016, on one side, it means that the chances of your holiday being spoiled by foul weather are slimmer. On the other side, drier conditions can worsen the effects of things like forest fires – which had an effect on destinations in Asia in 2015. Many credit El Nino conditions for fanning the man-made fires in Indonesia, resulting in one of the worst bouts of haze on record in 2015. Thankfully, this year much is being done to address the problem – and will drastically improve conditions for travellers visiting Asia.

What is being done to help?

ASEAN Head Quater
The ASEAN Union is a political and economic association which seeks to use political unity as a means of promoting the Southeast Asian region.

Luckily, a stronger ASEAN union has sought to prevent these sort of things from happening. In 2014, a Transboundary Haze Agreement was ratified by all members of the ASEAN union, which lawfully requires each of its members to prevent and mitigate, through concerted national effort and international cooperation, the problem of forest fires and haze pollution.

Furthermore, international pressure has been mounting on Indonesia –the main culprit in the haze issue- to bring an end to damaging practices that bring rise to wildfires and their haze. So, with any luck, 2016 should be the year that these preventative measures begin to bear fruit – hopefully resulting in a lighter-than-normal year for haze. For you this is good news, since 2016 should actually mean better outcomes for the haze issues that plagued Thailand and Singapore in 2015.

When will El Nino effect weather in Asia?

El Nino Asia Travel Tips 3
Color-coded areas describe the efffects that El Nino will have on the region through August. Current predictions are that El Nino will fade by then.

The root causes of El Nino events aren’t well understood. Although they’re fairly periodic, typically arising every two to seven years, it’s fairly hard to predict exactly when El Nino events will arise and when they will fade. Typically, however, El Nino events last from six to 18 months.

Fortunately, most forecasters are in agreement that the current El Nino will start to weaken late-spring to early summer – so if you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia now, you will probably arrive in Asia about when it is beginning to weaken.

Do I need to change my travel plans during El Nino?

Thailand landscape
El Nino shouldn’t have a substantial impact on your holiday in Southeast Asia – so pack like normal!

No, most certainly not! El Nino won’t have a significant effect on your travel plans beyond things staying a bit drier than usual.

The most important thing to remember when planning a trip to Southeast Asia during an El Nino year is that El Nino is, in itself, not a singular event that you should worry about or avoid. While it bears the connotation of being an ominous event, its effect on every-day travel will be minimal, that you might not even notice a difference!

So while it’s entirely likely that your trip to Southeast Asia may be slightly warmer or drier than usual, it isn’t likely that you’ll even notice. Consequently, you should plan your trip as you would during any other year – being sure to bring plenty of sun cream and a sturdy rain coat in the event that a downpour tries to ruin the fun!

With a travel company like Buffalo Tours, your trip will be comfortable and perfectly planned – don’t let El Nino postpone your unforgettable Asian getaway! Chat with our travel experts about your next journey.