An Explanation for the Heat.

 

So it’s about the time of year now where its supposed to be getting cooler. The “Hot Season” aka Hot and Wet miserable sweat bath of stagnancy is coming to an end and we are supposed to be getting some winds in the area to cool things off. Since were in the in-between seasons time the weather is just really variable from day to day. One day can be just miserably hot and still, a reminder of the past 6 months, the next can be warm but with a glorious wind coming off the ocean cooling you off regularly. The nights have cooled off considerably on the whole, but the days are still just a crap shoot. So I’m going to take this blog to explain to everyone about WHY the weather is the way it is here! This (I must admit) was inspired because I recently purchased a used Oceanography book from the University of the South Pacific book store in Suva and have been reading through it brushin’ up my skills!

 http://www.accuweather.com/en/fj/levuka/132606/weather-forecast/132606 Check Here if you are interested in what the weather is like where I live- please pay attention to the “Real Feel” area… like today its only 86 degrees but the real feel is 106 degrees. Thank you humidity.

If you read my blog on an even remotely regular basis, you know that Fiji has a hot season. Yeah. HOT. And not the dry heat of a desert where it can be 110 degrees and you sweat a bit but generally its not the end of the world and things cool off in the night… oh no my dear friends. The hot season in the tropics is a seemingly endless time of humidity. The hottest I think its been here is in the high 90’s, but with about 90% humidity and  no wind it is just awful. You sweat all day and all night. Showers are your one relief. Many volunteers will take upwards of 4-5 showers- or just sit under the tap with a snorkel mask on for a while- to feel the constant rushing of something cool. The evil temptress that showers are though, the relief ends just as soon as you turn off that tap. So many an afternoons are spent hiking up to various waterfalls and inland rivers to feel the glorious relief of chilled water. In the height of the hot season I will regularly go a week without washing my hair because it can take up to a full 24 hours to dry. Its just really not worth it.

 

The hot season is also a time where things just get, well gross. Mold grows on everything. Laundry takes a backseat because it takes days upon days to dry, even on a really sunny day, with such high humidity it just takes a long time. Black mold grows on everything. Mattresses, pillows, sheets, clothes, mats, etc. can’t be sunned (a process where you literally throw it out in the sun to get rid of bugs and other stuff that live inside everything) because the ground is constantly saturated with water and the threat of rain hangs in every afternoon. This leads to many uncomfortable nights fighting bugs (ants mostly), and wanting to wear your favorite Sulu Jaba only to realize there is black mold growing all over it (time for a vinegar bath Sulu Jaba!) Many a volunteer end up with fungal infections- ringworm and the like. Constant sweating and dirty water from the constant rain lead to intestinal issues (I’m lookin’ at you Giardia) and skin problems (uh-hum *boils*). Its just a not so fabulous time to live here.

 

So now that its nearing April 15th, that magical day we all look forward to that heralds in the “end” of cyclone season (hot/wet) and ushers back in the glorious days of the trade winds I thought I would take a moment to explain WHY all this happens… so sit back, put on your thinkin’ cap, and get ready for some SCIENCE!

 

First let’s get ourselves geographically oriented. Ovalau, the little island I live on (which by the way, is smaller than the District of Columbia) is located at approximately 17.7 degrees South of the Equator.

 Image

 

Who cares where you are on the globe? Well we ALL should. Our position on the earths surface greatly impacts our weather patterns as will be explained… now!

 

We will start with a little thing called the TRADE WINDS. These are really important out here in the tropics. Because Fiji is located in the southern hemisphere they are called the southeasterly trade winds (because winds are named from the direction they blow from).

ImageThe general scheme of winds around the world- the southeasterly trade winds are the ones shown in brown in the southern hemisphere.

 

So the trade winds are important because during the hot season (November-April) they essentially cease. No wind. No wind means an incredible increase in the amount of rain fall which is why the hot, still season is also the wet season.

Image

 

So trade winds are linked to the HADLEY CIRCULATION CELLS. Hadley cells are basically chunks of the earths air circulation that can be broken up into 30 degree segments. We will focus on the cell from the equator to 30 degrees south because that is where Fiji is!

Image

 

So the most important thing to know about the Hadley Cell is that the air at the equator rises, travels south to the South Pole, and falls at 30 degrees south.  The air at the equator is called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) or colloquially, the Doldrums, as named by sailors who would get stuck there for days or weeks on end due to the lack of air flow. Once the air sinks again at 30 degrees south, it travels across the surface of the earth back up towards the equator picking up heat and moisture on the way. Fiji- located about halfway in between these 2 major events sees pretty heavy rainfall and heat, although not as high as at the equator. Since the wind travels from the south, back up towards the equator the tradewinds are Southern flowing… so why east?

 

To explain that we add one last piece to the puzzle… the CORIOLIS EFFECT. This is basically something that describes the deflection of the winds to the west (once again winds are named from the direction they blow from so our trade winds are southeasterly). The blow to the west is caused by the rotation of the earth.

 

So those are my explanations for the weather we have around here. Brief. Hopefully it sheds some light on the reason behind the weather patterns here.

 

So I will leave you with a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner about the Pacific doldrums…

 

All in a hot and copper sky,

The bloody Sun, at noon,

‘ Right up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the Moon.

 

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, no breath no motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

 

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “An Explanation for the Heat.

  1. Thank you so much for this multi-faceted, very interesting post. Doldrums! Who knew?

  2. By the way, I am about to experience the exact opposite of you weather-wise. I leave to be a PCT in Mongolia in May! I’d love to know the patterns that cause their weather!

    • Wow, Mongolia!? Truly the opposite! What program are you in? Congrats on getting invited! What an exciting time! One thing to remember… pack light! I know it sounds crazy but you will part ways with many things that seemed essential before you left. Most everything you need can be found (usually cheaper) in your host country!

      • That’s a good reminder – packing light! I know I need to get my Smartwool long underwear here, but thank goodness the winter coat and boots can be bought there. I’ll be teaching English to secondary school children, and helping the Mongolian English teachers improve their English, as well as introduce them to ideas for making teaching English more fun for the students. I’ve been enjoying your blog very much, and I was excited to read that you had decided to stay another year.

        Thank you for responding.
        Kathleen Kendrick

  3. Mike Matthews

    Hello Samantha, This is a truly great blog. Thanks so much. I was in Levuka many years ago. Just for a couple of days and thought it was a fabulous place. I loved the charm of the place. Here’s a couple of questions for you. I see photos of the businesses on the main street and they all seem to be boarded up. Are they all out of business or is there some reason that the windows all seemed covered over? Also, right now, here in Springfield, Oregon, it’s March 26. We just entered spring. Is it spring there or fall? Love your writing. Thanks so much, Mike Matthews

    • Thank you! Levuka is a really unique area- it looks like a port town from the 1800 with a bit of old- western vibe to it :) The businesses on the main street are open for the most part. on the initial stretch of the town there is only one that is shut up. A lot of families live above their stores- like Kang Lee Bakery, Narseys Internet Shop etc. so if the upstairs look closed off that might be why. If you look at a picture from early in the morning everything is boarded up. The close up shop at night and put pallets over the windows etc. before locking up and, if you remember Fiji time at all, sometimes they decide not to open up in the morning until 11am or so… Right now for me its Thursday March 28 and we are just coming out of our hot season. Technically the hot season runs November 15-April 15 so I guess what we would be experiencing at the moment could be categorized as Fall. Although if this is autumn its a sore disappointment compared to the beauty of the PNW in Fall!! Really, here in Fiji we don’t experience a distinct “spring” or “fall” its just the hot/wet season and the cool/dry season. Thanks for reading!

  4. Mike Matthews

    Hello Samantha, Thanks for your explanation of the weather and other things about Levuka. I just finished writing a novel that I think you would be interested in. I have it in a .pdf format. If you are interested in reading it and have some way to read .pdf files, send me your email address and I will send the file to you. I would appreciate your local knowledge to tell me if I got the Fiji part of the story right. It’s been a while since I was there. Mike

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