Panama enjoys tropical warmth year-round, but there are distinctive seasons, characterized primarily by the absence or presence of rain.
In Panama, the sunshine usually arrives in time for the holidays (rainy season breaks in early-to-mid-December) and glows on uninterrupted until April or May. This solar beneficence is already upon us at Isla Palenque – we spent Christmas Day drinking in the sun’s rays along with our island cocktails.
But, like the perpetually dissatisfied humans we all too often are… we’ve already become a bit nostalgic for Panama’s rainy season. So join us in taking a look back at the wetter months of 2012, with a little help from our friends and colleagues in Panama.
Summer started with a bang on Isla Palenque this year – a brief bout of spastic weather in late June went down in the island annals as a “ten-year storm”. High winds and a downpour like nothing we had ever seen in Panama ravaged Isla Palenque and the surrounding area for a solid twelve hours. The nearby mainland withstood hail, and many trees on Isla Palenque sustained damage (as you can see from the photo at right).
Once that was over, more typical weather patterns resumed. July and August saw occasional rain, much of it the light misty kind our friend Judith McKinnon likes to garden in. A native of Chiriqui, she fondly remembers her childhood summers spent playing in the sparkling green rivers of western Panama. The rain has never bothered Judith, now 73, but she’s got some sage advice for anyone not looking to get wet:
“You don’t have to be afraid of the rainy season. If you wake up in the morning and it’s raining, by 1, 2 o’clock, you can go out! If it’s the opposite and it’s sunny when you wake up, run outside and enjoy it – by 1, 2 o’clock it will seem the rain comes out of nowhere!”
This workaround style suited our construction team well as they continued throughout the green and rainy months to bring the Panama resort at Isla Palenque to life amid jungle surroundings that grew lusher by the day.
Rain or Shine…
In reviewing the 2012 rainy season, Panamanian biologist Briant Dominici didn’t notice anything particularly unusual. While it’s true that a few late-November deluges caused some flooding of homes in Panama’s lowlands, primarily affecting the northern and western parts of the country, these were nothing out of the ordinary for tail-end-of-the-rainy-season weather in Panama. Clear skies followed close on the heels of these storms — a lightswitch change in early December, one that happens every year.
A common misconception about high tourism season in Panama is that it evolved to coincide with the abrupt end of the rains. Briant clarifies, saying high season “has more to do with the arrival of cold weather in North America and Europe.” He goes on to illustrate Panama’s diverse appeal at different times of year:
“During rainy season, scuba diving is best on the Caribbean side; during dry season the Pacific Ocean gets full with swimmers enjoying the eternal sun.
“During rainy season, most frogs mate and reproduce; during dry season iguanas and crocs lay their eggs in sandy places.
“During rainy season, the rivers and waterfalls are impressive; during dry season the surfers do their circuit through Panama, stopping at the Pacific and the Atlantic.
“During rainy season, the forest is very lush and you see green everywhere; during dry season the Guayacanes – the most beautiful tree in Panama – bloom and light the green forest with bright yellow.
“During rainy season the Caribbean is flat like a lake, enabling visitors to reach beaches otherwise unreachable…
“If you like rain, or if you like the sun, you will be happy in Panama. You’ll get plenty of both year-round!”
He’s a pretty sunny guy himself, as you can see.
Briant’s good nature and extensive knowledge of Panama’s jungles made him an excellent guide for island team members Emily and Molly during an October hiking expedition through Veraguas to see the magical waterfalls of this large central-west province. Their timing meant they were practically gushing — the waterfalls, that is. Well, the girls gushed a bit too.
“I can’t even express the awesomeness of driving through a creek bed as deep as the truck bed… we had to hand-fill it with rocks just to get through — quite the adventure. Before it rained on our way up, that creek was a trickle. After it rained, we were almost stranded up there,” says Emily.
Jacki Gillcash (our expat correspondent living in Panama) experienced a similar overflow of emotions in response to the 2012 rainy season:
“I struggle to capture in words what I have witnessed in Panama of the power of rain, the benefits of rain, healing and nurturing, forming a conduit between earth and sky, bathing the beaches and nourishing the jungles of this wild isthmian nation,” Jacki reflected in prose… before writing a poem about the rain.
Somehow, one of our colleagues has wholly missed out on this natural wonder. Kimshasa Baldwin (Design Director for Amble Resorts and Principal of Deture Culsign) has never experienced rain on Isla Palenque, despite numerous site visits.
“Strange but no,” Kimshasa says. Nevertheless, planning for rain is an important part of the design team’s work.
“As a designer, working with an uninhabited landscape presents its share of challenges in that you don’t know where the natural drainage channels are, or how the rain will reveal the hidden lagoons of the island. Having to respond to the microclimate of Isla Palenque has made for better design. We understand better how to erect and anchor the fly-roofs which are to be the floating ceilings of the Tented Suites. The roadways wind and turn through the thick of trees to maintain nature’s waterways and minimize erosion.”
There are certainly areas in Panama that could have benefited from this kind of site-responsive design, or better development planning overall, during the 2012 rainy season.
Respecting Panama’s Rain
Another of our Panamanian friends, Samuel Valdes (also a biologist) is careful to note that increases in rain-related destruction to homes is not a result of more extreme weather crossing the isthmus — rather, it has to do with people inhabiting areas they had not previously, many of these areas prone to flooding.
“Housing is cheaper in lowlands areas than at higher altitudes, but lower prices come with the potential for displacement come October or November,” Samuel says.
No reason to blame the weather for man’s poor planning — in fact, human activities have disrupted the climate in much more troubling ways. A small change in rainfall patterns (whether caused by nature or by irresponsible human behavior) affects the reproductive cycles of many species who synchronize their biological clock with the seasons. Rapid shifts in the weather become detrimental to these species, who have spent the last 1.5 million years adapting to the normal green-rainy-dry pattern, and can’t as easily adjust to the pace of climate change today.
“I go to the example of family trees and Malvaceae bignoniaceae. Both groups have winged seeds or cotton, so that when the winds blow, the seeds are dispersed far from the mother tree. If the fruit is opened and there is no wind, the seeds are soaked in the rain and do not fly away, but just fall under the mother tree, and in this environment there is too much shade for seedlings to thrive.”
Samuel goes on to talk about jungle animals that feed on these seeds or small plants, the role they play in seed dispersal, to illustrate the wide-ranging effects that a small shift in weather patterns can have.
“This shows how everything in nature is synchronized,” Samuel concludes.
Taking a look back can be just as important as taking action — we hope this rainy season retrospective has provided some fresh insight for you to begin 2013 in awareness, appreciation, and an active love of nature.