Singapore and Malaysia are preparing for an increased risk of haze in the coming months, as weather conditions indicate the development of climate phenomena that could bring warmer and drier conditions from June to October.
According to a media release by the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) on Tuesday (30 May), Singapore’s inter-agency Haze Task Force is coordinating action plans in anticipation of these conditions brought about by the El Nino and the positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) phenomena.
Under these climate conditions, there is consequently an increased risk of transboundary haze affecting Singapore and the neighbouring areas.
“The public are advised to make preparations, such as ensuring that they have sufficient N95 face masks and air purifiers in good working condition,” MSS added.
El Nino events typically significantly impact Singapore’s rainfall during the southwest monsoon season from June to September, resulting in a decrease in rainfall of up to 45 per cent.
Dry season to be more “intense and prolonged”
Given the expected El Nino and positive IOD, MSS said that the dry season this year may be more “intense and prolonged” compared to recent years, potentially extending into October.
The climate conditions will also increase the likelihood of peatland and vegetation fires. Hotspots are expected to escalate from June, particularly in fire-prone areas during extended periods of dry weather.
Should fires develop in close proximity and prevailing winds blow smoke haze from the fires towards Singapore, this would increase the risk of transboundary haze in the city-state.
During the last strong El Nino event from 2015 to 2016, Singapore experienced a total rainfall of approximately 35 per cent below the long-term average for June to September 2015. The country also recorded an average temperature of 28.8°C during the same period, which was 0.6°C above the long-term average for that period.
The strength and duration of the anticipated El Nino phenomenon are currently unknown. However, if a strong El Nino does occur, the coming southwest monsoon season will likely bring below-average rainfall and warmer temperatures.
El Nino amplifies haze threat in Malaysia
The El Nino phenomenon is also predicted to affect Malaysia, resulting in hotter and drier weather conditions, reported Malaysian news outlet The Star.
In Malaysia, air quality dropped to unhealthy levels in parts of Peninsular Malaysia last month. Additionally, reports by the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre indicated a transboundary haze in various locations in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.
Associate Professor Mohd Shahrul Mohd Nadzir from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia told The Star that during an El Nino event, changes in the speed of the westward-moving winds along the equator will cause warmer ocean surface temperatures.
As such, it creates favourable conditions for fires to break out in forests and areas undergoing land-clearing activities in Malaysia. These fires release substantial amounts of smoke and pollutants into the atmosphere, resulting in hazy conditions.