Saturday, August 13, 2011

Taiwanese Weather: Monsoons and Typhoons

Plum Rains 2011
Taiwan is an interesting place weather-wise. I come from Southern California, a place noted for warm, mild weather. In fact, the area in which I lived received about twelve inches of rain a year. Taiwan gets more than that on the average for the month of June.


Eastern Asia, Taiwan, Japan, eastern China, Korea and Vietnam all have two monsoon periods each year. It is actually, according to some websites, one monsoon period broken into two sections: The Winter Monsoon and the Plum Rains.

The Winter Monsoon usually starts in Late December or Early January and continues until March. Because of the Winter Monsoon, Chinese New Year in Taiwan is usually cold and wet. It is amazingly cold. I’m always surprised that it gets as cold as it does during the winter. Considering that Taipei is on the same latitude with the tip of Florida, you would expect temperatures to be similar to Southern Florida’s temperatures, but in fact, the temperature can get to between 6C and 9C (43F and 48F). When you couple that with high humidity you come out with bone chillingly cold weather. Add to that the fact that homes in Taiwan are concrete with tile floors and no furnaces, you have the makings of a cold winter. Fortunately winter here lasts only about six to eight weeks.

The Plum Rains start in May and usually last through June, although the periods of heavy rainfall continue until September. The Plum Rains are created through a stationary front that hangs over Japan, Taiwan, Eastern China and South Korea. It lasts until the sub-tropical ridge becomes strong enough to push this front to the north. That’s meteorologist speak for the weather is rainy until it isn’t. This year the Plum Rains started a little late closer to late June and continue to this day. (I’m writing this on August 13, 2011).

The Plum Rains bring quite a bit more rainfall than the Winter Monsoons as you can see from this average rainfall chart:

December      77mm – 3.0”            June          322mm – 12.7”
January          91mm – 3.6”            July           269mm – 10.6”
February      146mm – 5.8”            August      266mm – 10.5”

I think it is interesting that the average rainfall for June is a little higher than the average annual rainfall in the area where I lived in Southern California. There was one day this last June where we received 200mm (7.9”) in a twelve-hour period; more than half of the monthly average in twelve hours. That’s a lot of rain; a lot of rain.


The paths of typhoons in 2010, Taiwan is right in the middle of it.
Taiwan gets its share of typhoons, too. A typhoon is actually a hurricane but it happens in the Pacific Ocean instead of the Atlantic Ocean. They start near the island of Chuuk and move northward into the South China Sea. The places most affected by typhoons are Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan and Eastern China. It is a complicated set of circumstances that cause typhoons. I explained it in detail in a post titled, “Typhoon Conson: Here It Comes.” There are on average, in the Northwestern Pacific, where Taiwan is, 11 typhoons, annually. Of course they don’t all hit Taiwan directly and many just pass close to the island. But we feel the effects of them as wind and torrential rains.

Just before I moved to Taiwan in September 2009, a typhoon called Typhoon Morakot, which landed on the island on August 8, 2009 devastated Southern Taiwan. It caused landslides and flooding, costing billions of dollars. The Binlang (Betel Nut) industry was hit very hard as Betel Nut trees, which have a shallow root system and grow on the sides of mountains, were unable to hold back mudslides. One small town, was completely buried, killing 439 people. The government received a lot of criticism for poor response and rescue operations.

Typhoon Fanapi 2010 - Each circle represents 70% probability of direction
Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau website forecasts rain and typhoons for up to ten days in advance. You can track a typhoon’s progress by checking the website hourly. The website contains typhoon direction predictions as well as hourly weather satellite photos of typhoons and their proximity to Taiwan.

One thing you can’t say about Taiwan is that the weather’s boring. It seems meteorologically something is happening here all the time. Whether it’s monsoons or typhoons or just plain raining. Somebody gets wet almost every day.

Satellite Photo of Typhoon fanapi on Central Weather Bureau site.

Thanks to our companion blog Glimpses of Taiwan for the Typhoon Rain video.

Other Posts you may be interested in:

Here It Comes: Typhoon Conson
Typhoon Conson:  How Did We Cope?

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