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Micronesia in grip of severe drought

Monday 21 March 2016 | Published in Regional

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MICRONESIA – Weather forecasters say a severe drought that has hit Micronesia is expected to worsen over the next few weeks.

Much of the region has been affected by lack of rain for several months dhue to a strong, elongated El Niño system.

“Increasingly dry weather is taking hold across much of Micronesia.

“Below normal rainfall is already affecting the Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, Yap and Chuuk States in the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” a spokesperson for the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

The Northern Marianas, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have been severely affected with the latter two declaring states of emergency.

Palau is in an extreme drought category and has put water rationing programmes into effect for Koror and Aira, the most populated areas in the archipelago where residents will not have water access for 14 hours every day.

Other states in Palau have been on water rationing for several weeks.

The Palau utilities company is urging the public to use water wisely and only for essentials such as drinking and cooking.

According to a drought information statement from the NWS in Guam earlier this month, while the island has moved away from the peak of the El Niño event, “rainfall will likely be below normal over the next two months.”

The lead forecaster at the Guam Weather Service, Clint Simpson, said the lack of rain showed no improvement on the horizon.

“And it’s going to get worse and worse during the next few weeks. But we are hoping that as the atmosphere changes patterns a little bit that there will be a few more showers starting to move up into the Micronesia area.”

“Water supplies need to be monitored very closely and water conservation is highly encouraged. Drying and yellowing of food crops and vegetation will become much worse and grass fires will increase. Water wells on Saipan could see an increase in salinity as the drought progresses,” NWS said.

NWS said that computer model-inch to a half-inch of rain will fall through the next 10 days on Rota, Tinian, and Saipan.

“Longer range models indicate rainfall will be much lower than normal through the next month or two at least.”

The drought follows one of the strongest El Niño events in recorded history that remains entrenched across the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

“The El Niño event has peaked and is slowly weakening for the Pacific Region,” NWS said, “Climate model projections indicate with high confidence that the pattern will persist through late spring, then weaken to ENSO-neutral by the summer months and possibly transition to La Niña status late in the year.” - PNC