Before those living in Singapore had to wear masks because of the government’s mask mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19, people used to wear masks to protect themselves from the haze.
The masks used in the battle against the microparticles attributable to burning peat lands in our neighbour countries were even thicker, tighter and stuffier than the usual thin surgical masks we are used to.
Just as we thought mask-wearing was a thing of the past, it appears that it may be back to haunt us in the near future.
Here is what you need to know about the higher risk of haze (which may be paired with warmer temperatures) in the coming months.
Less Rainfall and Higher Temperatures Are to Be Expected
If you have one of those complaining about the wet weather which plagued our sunny island towards the end of last year and early this year, it may be too late to retract those complaints.
The mercury in Singapore is set to rise in the coming months of June to August.
According to the forecasts made by the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS), El Nino conditions are quite likely to develop in the second half of the year. It is also forecasted that a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) will develop during the same period.
The result? Warmer and drier weather for Singapore. Is it time to hit the malls to cool down with some free air-conditioning?
In particular, there is about a 70 to 80 per cent chance that El Nino will occur this year as the subsurface ocean temperatures observed in the eastern tropical Pacific are already warmer than usual.
Such a phenomenon usually means that El Nino events are soon to come.
If El Nino does manifest in the coming months, then locals can expect to wear more sunscreen as rainfall may fall up to 45 per cent below average. During the last El Nino event that Singapore experienced from 2015 to 2016, rainfall was about 35 per cent below average from June to September 2015.
Quite a remarkable decrease, indeed.
It’s Not All Bad
The good news is that the warmest temperatures are still some time away. Historically, when El Nino events hit, the warmest temperatures occur in March and April of the following year (which means March and April 2024).
When Singapore experienced the El Nino event from 2015 to 2016, average temperatures from June to September 2015 hovered around the 28.8 degrees Celsius range (which was 0.6 degrees Celsius above the average).
The mercury rose by 0.4 degrees Celsius from March to April 2016, hitting 29.2 degrees Celsius. That was a whopping 1.2 degrees Celsius above the average for that period, marking one of the hottest years that Singapore experienced on average.
For the sake of all our sweat pores, we sure are keeping our fingers crossed that a weak El Nino sets in. Or better still, it does not occur at all.
The MSS also shares that the other weather phenomenon to watch out for in the coming months is the positive IOD which usually results in cooler sea surface temperatures in the eastern Indian Ocean.
This, in turn, causes less cloud formation because water does not evaporate as much as usual. The result is hence below-average rainfall in the eastern Indian Ocean and surrounding regions, including Singapore, Sumatra, and Peninsular Malaysia.
A regional headache for leaders in this region.
Higher Risk of Haze to Be Expected as Well
If reading the word “Sumatra” rings a bell in your mind, you may well be on the right track.
Due to the warmer temperatures and drier conditions, Singapore also faces a higher risk of being affected by transboundary haze.
More specifically, drier and warmer conditions mean that there could be increased occurrences of natural peatland and vegetation fires. The number of hotspots could escalate from June 2023, especially in fire-prone areas.
There may also be opportunistic farmers who take this time to set fire to their own plots of land as the burnt matter serves as a good fertiliser. This could allow for better crops to be grown in the next season.
With south-easterly to south-westerly winds blowing haze from these forest fires towards Singapore, we are once again at risk of experiencing transboundary haze.
It’s time to dust off those N95 masks you stocked up on and prepare to mask up.
Given the looming threat of hazy skies and the smell of something burning in the air, it is wise to be prepared to deal with the haze well before it hits our shores.
Especially if you have a pre-existing condition such as asthma which may be aggravated by the haze.
You can monitor the air quality and hotspots at the website https://www.haze.gov.sg/, including 1-hour PM2.5 and 24-hour PSI readings. These measurements will help you ascertain the air quality and aid in your decision of whether to go outdoors or stay inside with your windows shut.
The government is also not standing idle in its preparation to combat the impending poor weather. The Inter-Agency Haze Task Force (HTF) has started to take action, including advising members of the public to ensure that they have sufficient N95 face masks.
Another alternative is to purchase air purifiers in good working condition.
If you require more details on how to protect yourself against haze, you may wish to keep an eye out on the National Environment Agency’s website and social media channels for the latest updates. For more information on El Nino events, visit http://www.weather.gov.sg/climate-el-la.
Stay safe and mask up, everyone. In the meantime, we are off to get ourselves some delicious coconut ice cream to cool ourselves down.