Thailand Suffers Most Expensive Flood in History, Destroying More Than 10% of Rice Farms in World’s Top Exporter

This aerial picture shows an under-construction temple surrounded by floodwater outside the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, on October 11.”  AFP.  Click to Enlarge.

Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters reports on the staggering floods that have hit Thailand:

Heavy rains in Thailand during September and October have led to extreme flooding that has killed 283 people and caused that nation’s most expensive natural disaster in history. On Tuesday, Thailand’s finance minister put the damage from the floods at $3.9 billion. This makes the floods of 2011 the most expensive disaster in Thai history, surpassing the $1.3 billion price tag of the November 27, 1993 flood, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

And this is but the latest example of how extreme weather harms global food security (see “Global Food Prices Expected to Climb, Get More Volatile.”  As BusinessWeek reported, “Floodwaters have swept across 60 of Thailand’s 77 provinces over the past two months … destroying more than 10 percent of the nation’s rice farms.”  Masters notes “Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of rice, so the disaster may put further upward pressure on world food prices, which are already at the highest levels since the late 1970s.”

Eastern Thailand was deluged with 5 feet of rain in September.  And there’s more to come:

Some of the highest tides of the month occur this weekend in the capital of Bangkok, and the additional pressure that incoming salt water puts on the flood walls protecting the city is a major concern. A moderate monsoon flow continues over Southeast Asia, and the latest GFS model precipitation forecast foresees an additional 2 – 5 inches of rain over most of Thailand during the next three days.

Here’s more detail, along with  some astonishing graphics and images via Masters and The Atlantic:

Figure 1. Thailand’s Chao Phraya River forms at the confluence of smaller rivers near Nakhon Sawan and flows past Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand. Floodwalls meant to contain the river collapsed in downtown Nakhon Sawan, the Bangkok Post reported on October 11, 2011. The aftermath of the burst floodwalls left the city looking like a lake. As rivers overflowed in Thailand, the Tônlé Sab (Tonle Sap) lake in neighboring Cambodia (lower right of images) overflowed. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured these images on October 11, 2011, and October 8, 2010. These images use a combination of visible and infrared light to better distinguish between water and land. Vegetation is green, and clouds are pale blue-green. Water is dark blue. In 2011, water rests on floodplains between Phitsanulok and Nakhon Sawan. Image credit: NASA.

Heavy rains due to an active monsoon and moisture from tropical cyclones
Rainfall in September peaked at 574.3mm (22.61″) at Nong Kai in Northeastern Thailand, 501mm (19.72″) at Uttardit in Northern Thailand, and 1446.7mm (56.96″) in Eastern Thailand. For these regions, precipitation averaged 40 – 46% above normal in September. In the week ending Oct. 13, an additional 4 – 8″ fell in Central and Thailand, where the capital of Bangkok lies. On Thursday, 38 mm (1.53″) fell in Bangkok, and rainfall amounts of 1 – 3″ fell over much of Central Thailand. Heavy monsoon rains are common in Thailand and Southeast Asia during La Niña events, and we currently have a weak La Niña event occurring. Ocean temperatures in the waters surrounding Thailand during September and October have been approximately 0.3°C above average, which has increased rainfall amounts by putting more water vapor into the air. The remains of Tropical Storm Haitang and Typhoon Nesat also brought heavy rains in late September. The flooding has also affected neighboring Cambodia, killing at least 183 people. Floods have also killed 18 in Vietnam and 30 in Laos this fall.

Here are some of the photos from The Atlantic:

Flooded Chaiwattanaram Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok on October 11.  AFP

An aerial view of a flooded area in Ayutthaya province, on October 10. Reuters

That’s what they call High Water.  Imagine what it’ll be like when we’re 10° F warmer globally, which is where were headed on our current emissions path.

Related Posts:

  • Trenberth in an interview with Climate Progress last year:

“I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”


13 Responses to Thailand Suffers Most Expensive Flood in History, Destroying More Than 10% of Rice Farms in World’s Top Exporter

  1. Rice dog says:

    Rice Farms are not “destroyed” by flooding. Perhaps the writer meant to report that 10% of Thailand’s 2011 rice CROP
    was damaged or destroyed by the flooding. The “farm” however will probably recover after the flood waters recede.

    Rice is an annual crop and therefore must be replanted either by transplant or from seed. In 2010 about 30% of California Rice Crops were deemed very poor due to well below normal temperatures. In 2011 California Rice Growers have experienced their 2nd year in a row of below normal temperatures. This year, however, the total heat unit threshold was met and the rice crop should be acceptable.

  2. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    A considerable portion of the regions fish comes from Thai fish farms. Any word on how badly fish farms have been affectected?

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Trenberth has the right of it.

  4. Paul Magnus says:

    For low lying regions we find that SLR is meeting ground flooding and they are stuck in the middle!

  5. Leif says:

    One thing that I do not hear about much is how much toxic stuff is in the flood waters. There is of course oil and all those paint thinners in shops and storage but bottles and cans of yard poisons to float off and lose their labels, rust and break like little poison mines. In this country most homes have some stuff to contribute. I would think that a place like Thailand rural areas might have less but even there, bags of fertilizer would be concentrated in a very small area perhaps disrupting localized growing conditions.

  6. prokaryotes says:

    The metropolitan area of Bangkok has 14.5 million inhabitants and is the 73rd largest city in the world.

    Bangkok lies about two meters (6.5 ft) above sea level, which causes problems for the protection of the city against floods during the monsoon season. Occasionally after a downpour, water in canals and the river overflows the banks, resulting in floods in some areas. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has recently installed higher banks alongside some canals to keep water levels from reaching street level. There are however some downsides for Bangkok’s extensive canal routes, as the city is rumored to be sinking an average of two inches a year as it lies entirely on a swamp[10] and there are fears that Thailand’s capital will be submerged by 2030

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Official claim the situation is under control … oh and they ask for help from FEMA.

  8. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    You don’t know any thing abourt Rice planting. In India in recent floods thousands of acres of rice plants were submeged bringing misery to many.

    You should know facts before you write.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  9. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Does it due to Climate Change?

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    “Eastern Thailand was deluged with 5 feet of rain in September.”

    Add 5 feet 8 inches in Taiwan in Sept., and 6 feet 6 inches in Japan in Sept.

  11. Colorado Bob says:

    We do not know what we are doing
    “Thailand is a tropical country with monsoon seasons. Annual flooding is even more a part of life than skin-whitening cream, but less so than corruption. Given climate change, deforestation, decades of poor planning and mismanagement, the flood disaster will get progressively worse and worse. The present disaster will pale compared to the next one.

    Decades of mismanagement and short-sightedness cannot be blamed on any one government. It requires a collective effort to achieve this level of incompetence. But I can guarantee that in news meetings of every media organisation in the Kingdom over the past weeks, editors have been pulling their hair out over how to report the flooding situation accurately. The problem is the confusion and mixed messages given by the authorities.

    This minister says one thing. That minister says something else.”