This weekend the heat index has hit 44 C in our little corner of Kalasin. The same story has played out almost every day for the last month.
Thailand, and the rest of Southeast Asia, has been experiencing an extended period of extreme temperatures and it’s been a struggle.
It could be that we’ve spent most of the hot season of the last 20 years or so in an air-conditioned office, but it feels like it’s the hottest I can remember. And it’s definitely the longest hot spell I’ve experienced for a long time.
The full toll of this long hot season has yet to be played out, and the most critical factor in this is the lack of rain.
This time last year our newly dug pond had filled nicely; at the same time this year it’s not much more than a puddle.
May 9th 2022, a few weeks after digging our pond and it's over half full.
May 7th, 2023 and the dog can barely get a swim
This intense heat has a very disabling effect. Outside work is pretty much impossible after early morning and the majority of afternoon movement is made just to find a cool spot or a hint of a breeze.
The wind is no solution to the heat. Some gusts can be so hot it begins to feel that you are sitting in a convection oven, with your skin slowly baking and your blood beginning to boil. It’s not pleasant.
For most of the past month early mornings and dusk-time evenings have been cooler, giving us a little respite, but even that has stopped over the past few days. It was 30 C at 5am this morning.
The weather is due to break soon. We need it to break soon.
As much as the hot weather is uncomfortable, the real issue is the lack of rain. Our rice fields currently make good grazing areas for neighbours’ cows and buffalos, but on the 14th May last year they were filled with water and the soil was ready to be turned for the first time.
By that time we’d had a quite a few big storms that steadily dumped a lot of rain. This year the wind seems to be a lot stronger, and the one storm we have had brought with it a quite violent wind. It was a rush to tie down and secure everything we could, and it did some damage to roofs in the village.
It feels like there could be a lot more violent storms this year.
Having no rain and no wet rice fields creates a problem down the line. Late planting means a later harvest, and that increases the risk of something going wrong. Some people around us waited a week to long to harvest last year and heavy rains washed out their crop. We all run the same risk this year, as we’ll all have to wait a little longer to harvest if planting is done later.
Last year the rice fields made the perfect playground for the kids.
This year the cows have pride of place as they graze
Our rice is all for personal use and we don’t usually sell any of what we produce. It’s personal not just for us, of course, but the whole family. The family in the village, family working away in Bangkok or Phuket – everyone gets a share.
But if the heat has the same effect across the country and rice production is affected, that means prices will increase. It’s not really what people need after the last six months of food, electricity and petrol prices going up.
None of this is helped by the impending return of El Nino, which is predicted to return later this year, which the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says ‘would likely fuel higher global temperatures’. Oh great!
Thailand has already broken a number of temperature records in the last month, and now we are told its going to get hotter.
As far as I can see previous El Nino cycles in Thailand mean extended dry spells. In a vicious cycle less water on the ground means higher temperatures and less cooling effects. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
What’s the solution? For us, we don’t know yet.
Our water is sourced from our own underground well and so far it’s held up well, but we’ve also seen a lot more people in the area drill for their own well. The scramble for water resources is on.
However, with so much sun and heat about, it may also be time to embrace solar. It’s still relatively expensive in Thailand, and in contrast electricity is still very cheap, despite recent rises, but perhaps cost isn’t the only deciding factor.
I can only imagine energy costs will keep rising, and there must be a limit to how much the Thai government can continue to subsidize. This makes energy independence more interesting. Could going solar insulate us from fast-rising energy costs? Does it make sense? Based on our current bill a fully off-grid system might not see a return on our investment for 15-20 years, but that assumes bills don’t rise and our energy needs stay the same (and I’m not sure how much longer we can continue without any air-con!)
As a side note, a general election is looming in Thailand and next Sunday people will vote then those in charge will engineer a government between them so they get as much of a piece of the pie as they can. Out of the parties standing for election only one stated a solar-based policy that subsidized solar installation to help reduce home energy bills. In a country so blessed with the sun, it’s astounding that solar isn’t already part of everyone’s home.
For us, we have some big decisions to be made and whether you believe is climate change or not, a lot of our next decisions will be influenced by the weather. How do we secure our water supply? How do we manage the heat? When is the right time to go solar?
Not all of these decisions need to be made immediately, but if not now, when? The heat is most definitely on.