Category Archives: Rainy Season In Panama

Yipee, It’s Raining!

We’re deep into the middle of the “dry” season here in Panama. It’s only rained a couple of times since the wonderful fireworks displays of Christmas Eve and New Years, and it usually stays dry until sometime at the end of April or early May. The afternoons have been incredibly hot. I rarely use the air conditioning which is why I’ve come up with a couple of $8 electric bills. For the most part I’m very comfortable if I’m in some shade with a breeze blowing, but over the last month I’ve shut the doors and windows around two or three in the afternoon and cranked up the a/c.

Everyone’s lawns have taken on the color of a shredded wheat biscuit with tiny hints of green poking though like bits of mold. The river, only a few yards away from the house has been silent and normally I can hear it running over the rocks but recently it’s been nearly dry, and you can easily walk across it in quite a few places without getting your feet wet. A patina of fine dust coats everything inside and out.

Yesterday morning when I got up it was gloomy. I thought it was just breaking dawn and was surprised that it was nearly eight thirty, and I almost never sleep that late. It stayed overcast all day which moderated the heat of the afternoon and a couple of times a few drops of rain fell, but only a very few. Not enough to wet anything down.

This morning it was also overcast, but a slow, steady rain was falling and it still is three hours later. What’s remarkable is that almost instantly the lawn, which was 95% brown is now more than half green as the rain soaks down to the roots of the grass. I doubt that the dry season is over, yet, but it’s nice to see some rain again.

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Tropical Storm Sandy

The weather here in Panama, the last couple of days, has been really lousy. While we are in that part of the “rainy season” when our rainfall is greatest what we’re been going through now is unusual. Just to recap what I’ve said about the “rainy season” before…It doesn’t normally rain 31 (that’s 24/7). Most mornings are glorious. Blue skies, puffy white clouds until early afternoon. Then things start to cloud up and just before early evening the sky dumps several inches of water in a couple of hours. Yesterday morning (Wed. Oct. 24), was one of those very rare days when I woke up to rain. I can’t remember more than three or four mornings like that in the two and a half years I’ve been living here. Worse than that, it rained all day long. Not the usual downpours we’ve all come to know and love, but a light, steady rain that just didn’t stop. And it’s still raining this morning and probably will all day long.

Why? Believe it or not, Tropical Storm Sandy which is hovering over Cuba as I write this. We don’t get hurricanes here in Panama. It’s too far south, but that doesn’t mean the storms don’t effect us. They do! Hurricanes are giant weather factories with far-reaching consequences. If you remember your high school science lessons you know that hurricanes, cyclonic disturbances, rotate in a counter-clockwise direction, and that’s what’s changed our weather pattern here.

Look at this NOAA photo of Sandy.

That’s Panama just under and to the left of that huge patch of red. As you can see, the storm is drawing its strength from water vapor all the way into the Pacific Ocean and dragging the bad weather across the isthmus. We’re only about 50 miles or so between the Pacific and the Caribbean here. And it’s causing big problems.

In Tonosi, at the foot of the Azuero Peninsula about 300 houses have been affected by flooding when the Tonosí river overflowed its banks.

(Photo from Panama Guide.com)

Here in Chiriquí Province the river in Puerto Armuelles (about an hour and a half away by bus from my home) over on the Pacific side on the border with Costa Rica, has been threatening to overflow its banks. People in Nuevo Chorrillo, in the district of Arraiján, near Panama City, are living under the threat of landslides from the super-saturated hills above their homes.

While other rivers are threatening homes the river a mere 25 yards or so from my house is doing fine. I’ve written about, and posted videos, about how fast the river can rise to frightening levels in a matter of a few minutes. Right now it’s what I would categorize as “high normal.” Most of the huge boulders as still well above the water level. Since the rain has been light but steady the watershed isn’t being overwhelmed and there’s little to worry about right now.

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The Greening of Panama

I’ve written quite a bit, with videos, about the rainy season in Panama. The “dry” season in Panama runs roughly from the end of November through April and does not lend itself to good video opportunities. Sort of on a par with taking an action picture of a rock.

It’s hard to say if this has been a typical dry season or not since I haven’t lived here long enough to have developed a meteorological memory bank. The river that runs past the house has been little more than a winding rock pile for months.

We’ve been  several months without a drop of rain. Full-blown drought conditions. Diary farmers in the district of Macaracas are experiencing serious difficulties. This dry season has resulted in a 25% decline in production. The most critical areas are the districts of El Cedro and Corozal, where 80% of surface water sources have dried up and the grass is low. Serious, large-scale brush fires have been reported throughout the country as a result of the tinder-dry conditions.

When I’d leave the house to go catch a bus into David I’d crunch across the straw-colored front yard. Here and there were tiny tufts of green but easily 90% was as dry as dust. But the yards around here aren’t sodded plots. They’re covered by indigenous plant life. Stuff that has survived these conditions for millennia. So not everything is brown.

The trees have remained green, but look at the ground beneath them. (Sorry, the color of the pictures is horrible. I think I damaged my still camera when I was documenting the final sunrises in Potrerillos Arriba and I’m now using my video camera’s still photo mode.)

April is fast approaching and the weather pattern here in Chiriquí Province has been changing. It started about a month ago. I woke up one morning to find it raining quite hard and it continued into the early afternoon. This was unusual because during the rainy season the wet stuff generally comes in the middle of the afternoon. It’s rare to find it raining in the mornings. But that was just a tease. We didn’t get any more rain for days afterwards. Clouds would build up in the afternoon and it looked like it was about to rain but nothing came of it. Then it started last Thursday and we’ve had rain every afternoon since then. Right now it’s quite gloomy and I can hear thunder from all points of the compass.

The newly arrived rains haven’t changed the river yet as you can see from the photo above. The ground’s too dry for that. La tierra is thirsty and drinking up the rain as it falls. In a couple of months, when the ground is thouroughly saturated it will run off and the rivers will rise again.

The rain, though, has had a profound effect on the grasses. With just a couple of successive days of rain green patches are springing up where it had been brown.

There are four treelings? Treelets? Saplings? in the back yard. I watered them nearly every day, but one seems to have succumbed.

I have no idea what kind of a tree it is supposed to be. The leaves seem to be that of a mango. But the mangoes in the neighborhood are thriving and loaded with an abundance of green fruits now. I’ve not given up hope. The leaves, while they are a dreadful brown, have remained supple and pliant. Hopefully it’s simply resting and not like this…

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Rolling On The River

You can always tell when it’s been raining up in the mountains by what’s happening in the little river beside the house. This morning it was, for this time of year, a mere trickle. In the middle of the afternoon you could hear the sound level rise and a glance out the kitchen window confirmed that the river had risen considerably though no rain had fallen here yet. By late afternoon we were getting a decent soaking and three teens came down with inner tubes.

“Why don’t you go up higher?” I said in my broken Spanish. “You’ll get a longer and faster ride. They agreed. It took them a while to make their way up stream a few hundred yards and then you could hear them yelling with delight.

I didn’t see them after that. Who knows? The could have gone all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

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Rain Just Part Of Life In Panama

It should be no surprise to anyone if I told you its been raining all morning here. But if you’ve been following this blog you already know that its the rainy season in Panama for nearly two-thirds of the year.

Rain is just a part of life here in Panama. Unless it’s coming down at a rate of six inches an hour and wiping out bridges and causing landslides that devour houses people just get on with their lives. After all, what are the alternatives?

I first noticed this behavior when I was living over in Boqueron. One of my neighbors has a very large yard and the kids from all over would come there to play. One of their favorite games was a form of baseball. One day it started to pour but it didn’t interrupt the game for a moment. I used to laugh at gringo behavior I’d see when working at the family restaurant at the beach back home in the summers. People would come down to the beach and frolic in the water all day long. But let three or four drops of rain fall out of the sky and everyone would high-tail it to their cars. Not here.

Yesterday I went up to Boquete with a nearby gringo couple and Magalys, the maid we share. Magalys’s son’s band was supposed to be playing at an event sponsored by the local Lion’s Club. Shortly after we arrived it started raining, of course. But unlike in the States where things would probably have been postponed until another day, the show just went on.

Kids from a local school stood in the rain and played their instruments completely oblivious to the steady rain.

Adults had their moments, too, performing in the wet.

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Trip to Boqueron

Yesterday I took a trip out to Boquerón. I wanted to see what was going on with the collapsed bridge  to see what damage had been done to the house I’ll be renting and the lot behind the house.

I was mistaken about the bridge location. It’s further to the west on the Interamerican Hwy. Between David and  Boquerón there’s a similar set of bridges a short ways before where you have to turn off to go up to the pueblo. The price of the ride from the terminal in David has gone up from 50¢ to 60¢ since the last time I went there, but it’s still an outrageous bargain compared to riding on public transportation anywhere in the States.

The damage done to the lot behind the house was much greater than I’d expected. There used to be a chain link fence around the property and the lot was full of grass and weeds. A footpath ran down the side of the lot and around behind it. It was used daily by Indians who live on the other side of the river down in that direction. They’d wade across the river and then walk up to the main road to catch the buses. It was a much shorter route for them to get to transportation that way.

As a point of reference take a look at this video I shot last year. At about the 33 second mark you are looking back up the footpath back towards the house. You can see the chain link fence that marked the lot and you can see some trees growing at the side of the river.

Here’s what it looks like from roughly the same spot today.

This is looking in the other direction, down towards the back of the lot.

Here are some of those trees.

Take a close look at this picture. You can see where the water level was this morning and it’s usually like this. Now, note how high the bank is above the water level. During the storm the water must have come up at LEAST 12 feet or more.

While the torrent didn’t wash anything away on our lot, water apparently did get inside the house. It has been described to me as being quite a “mess inside.” I haven’t got a clue to that means. The gate was locked so I couldn’t even get on the lot to try and peer inside. I just got the phone number of the neighbor girl who is looking out for things and I’ll try and get in touch with her over the weekend. I’m sure there’s a lot of mud inside though I have no idea how high the water might have risen. I didn’t see any waterline left on the side of the house. I’m sure there’s a lot of mud in there. The river, which is usually clear enough to see the rocks on the bottom was the color of coffee this morning five days after the storm. I was also told that, as of a couple of days ago, there was no water service in the neighborhood. That happens all over the place because the sediment clogs up the filtration systems at the water plants and they usually don’t have spares on hand. Also, the water infrastructure is definitely “third world,” and mainly consists of PVC piping and most of it just runs along top of the ground.

Well, it’s all part of the adventure of living in a developing country, though they didn’t seem to fair much better in Vermont from that last hurricane than we did in this tempest.

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Rainy Season Disaster

This year’s rainy season in Panama hasn’t been setting records like it did last year, but it’s been bad enough. Yesterday it got even worse.

Panama loves baseball. Nearly every town has a baseball field or some kind for Little League games and there are adult teams as well. There’s a professional league here and David has a team and the games are always well attended.  American major league baseball is closely followed and the standings and box scores are recorded daily in all the country’s newspapers. Several Panamanians play in the major leagues in the States and without a doubt Mariano Rivera, the relief pitcher playing for the Yankees, is the most famous.

Last month Rivera became baseball’s all-time saves leader at an amazing 602 and counting!

Currently Panama is hosting the World Cup of Baseball. Teams from all over the world have descended on this small country to compete in what is truly the WORLD SERIES of baseball. Everyone knows there are rain delays in baseball, but two days ago in Panama City rain stopped the games before they even started. Heavy rains literally flooded Rod Carew (A “Zonian” born to a Panamanian mother on a train in the town of Gatún and Baseball Hall of Famer) Stadium canceling the scheduled game between the United States and Japan.

But that’s the light side of the rainy season here. Yesterday saw death and disaster here in Chiriqui Province.

As I do every Monday I took the bus down to David to do my grocery shopping. You have to do things like that early because it’s guaranteed to rain in the afternoon. I almost made it home before it started. I had to walk from the bus stop to the house in a light rain but then it started to pour. An inundation for sure. It made rain like this…

…seem like a mere drizzle.

It’s was the kind of rain that turns normally placid streams like this one beside the house in Boquerón…

…into raging torrents like this in a matter of minutes.

This morning I woke to find that the deluge had caused the bridge crossing the Rio Piedras (Stone River) on the Interamerican Highway west of David to collapse.

 

Taking the bus from Boquerón to David I had to cross over that bridge. The river is quite wide there but normally it’s just a wide expanse of sand and large boulders with a trickle wending it’s way from the mountains in the north to the Pacific Ocean. I never liked that bridge. The rain also caused two smaller bridges in the area to collapse as well. Fortunately no one was on either of the bridges when they fell, but a worker further up the river who worked on the construction of a hydroelectric project was fatally buried in a mudslide and an Indian was swept away in the torrent of another river but their fate is yet unknown.

 

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