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 cyclonesRainfall 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:

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.

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“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.”