Thailand Teeters Between Drought and Floods, Awaiting Tropical Storm Wipha

A worker inspects trees that fell on a house Wednesday night in Trat after a tropical storm.
A worker inspects trees that fell on a house Wednesday night in Trat after a tropical storm.

MAHA SARAKHAM — Locals are simultaneously digging wells due to a longstanding drought and bracing for flash floods that could result from a coming storm.

The approaching tropical storm Wipha may offer short relief from the months-long drought, but it might equally bring flash floods and landslides.

Nongyao Saengsuriya, a farmer in Maha Sarakham, spent 50,000 baht to install a well at her farm in Baan Na See Nual, since she’s been unable to plant rice due to the drought.

“I hope I see some rain so all my rice doesn’t die,” she said Thursday.

Kittisak Chantra, the province’s governor, has issued an official warning that his province should brace for flash floods due to Wipha from Thursday through Tuesday.

Tropical storm Wipha, which is closing schools in Hong Kong and Hainan as of Thursday, is expected to skim across northern Thailand around Monday, bringing heavy rains in the North and Isaan, according to the Thai Meteorological Department. In those regions, there’s a 70 to 80 percent chance of rain through Tuesday.

The central provinces and the south should see about a 40 to 60 percent chance of rain. So will Bangkok, which should see lows of 24C and highs of 36C.

Although the news cycle this week has shifted attention away from the drought in favor of panic about Wipha, many hard-hit regions are still struggling from little rain. The Royal Rainmaking Division is continuing to fly planes in attempts to make rain. On Wednesday, it carried out several operations in Isaan and the central provinces, resulting in light rain in Lopburi.

In Nakhon Ratchasima, one of the provinces hardest-hit by the shortage of rain, the Lum Plai Mat dam is at 27 percent capacity. Lam Chamuak reservoir is at a 50-year-low of 24 percent.

Lum Plai Mat dam in Nakhon Ratchasima Thursday.
Lum Plai Mat dam in Nakhon Ratchasima Thursday.
Lam Chamuak reservoir in Nakhon Ratchasima Thursday.
Lam Chamuak reservoir in Nakhon Ratchasima Thursday.

Yet scattered rains, presumably an effect of Wipha, have resulted in minor disasters since Wednesday. In Trat, falling trees in a Wednesday night storm damaged 40 houses. One 100 rai-rubber farm (16 hectares) lost 3,000 trees. Up in Nan, locals are already bringing out water pumps in preparation for floods.

In early July, Tropical Depression Mun gave farmers a brief respite from the drought.

Effects of a Wednesday night tropical storm in Trat.
Effects of a Wednesday night tropical storm in Trat.

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How Dry Is the Thai Drought This Year?