Panama Canal Shut – Rain

Panama Canal and Lakes

Panama Canal and Lakes

Original Image

Think about how much rain it takes to raise all those lakes to record levels.

I’ve been putting forward the theory that as we enter a cooling turn, the cooling of the ocean will show up as excess rain. The ocean, heated for 30 years, needs to dump that heat. And it does so by evaporating water. That rises to the bottom of the stratosphere (called such as it is ‘stratified’ and the place where such convection stops) and then that vapor condenses to rain, dumping the heat.

To the extent this is true, we ought to see added rainfall. We’ve already seen it in Australia. We’re seeing added precipitation in the form of snow in Europe. Now we can add Central America. In a dramatic way, too.

h/t to george from here:


Eight killed in rains, Panama Canal shut down
Panama City, Dec 9 (DPA)

Days of heavy rain have left at least eight people dead in Panama, while the Panama Canal authority was forced to shut down the short-cut ship passage that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans.

President Ricardo Martinelli said the deaths were caused by flooding as rivers overflowed their banks leaving many areas under water. Thousands suffered property damage.Officials said Wednesday that visibility was too limited to manoeuvre ships through the locks of the Panama Canal. It was the first time in 100 years that the passage had been closed.

Note that they say it is the first time in 100 years the passage had been closed. Not ‘operations suspended’ but the actual passage closed.

I seem to remember a few years back talk that the Panama Canal would be shut down for LACK or rainfall due to, you guessed it, Global Warming… Why, yes, here it is, 2008…

From NPR National Public Radio:

March 3, 2008

The Panama Canal is the shortcut between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. As the Earth’s climate changes, the canal will face changes, too. It depends on rain, not seawater, to fill its locks, and changes in rainfall might mean the canal could run out of water.
MILTON: El Ninos in 1997 and 1998 left the canal so short of water that ships had to unload part of their cargo to keep from running aground. It was the worst drought in the canals history and it disrupted shipping around the world. No one really knows whether climate change is going to make el Ninos more frequent, but Heckadon sees some ominous trends.

Mr. HECKADON-MORENO: Inside the canal watershed, inside the valley of the Chagres river, there has been an affect on that micro watershed, and there has been a decrease in rainfall.
HAMILTON: Drought is just one way that climate change looms over the future of the Panama Canal. Rising seas could flood ports along the shipping routes that go through the canal. Extreme weather is another threat. When Hurricane Katrina delayed ships on the Mississippi River, they missed their slots to go through the canal. It created a huge traffic jam. And then there’s that melting ice in the Arctic. It could make the Northern Passage a viable option for shipping. If the world gets warm enough, goods headed for the U.S. may skip Panama all together.

Jon Hamilton, NPR News.

Meanwhile, Back In The Real World

Ah, yes, the “Good Old Days” when all things were caused by Global Warming and Climate Change. Meanwhile, back in the Real World it’s not warmed in a decade and we’re dumping heat like crazy with record cold in Cancun, record frozen in England, and the entire UK under snow. Oh, and flooding in Australia and Central America. Again from the first article:

The rain also caused landslides in roads near the canal and cut off villages from the outside world.
Catastrophic downpours have flooded the entire region between Venezuela and Costa Rica for weeks and months. Colombia has declared a state of emergency after months of heavy rains claimed at least 218 lives.

But then, they go an blame it on La Nina.. but folks, this is no ordinary La Nina effect. Not with 100 year events and rain for “months”.

The heavy rain is blamed on the weather phenomenon La Nina that revisits the region every so often. Cold water from the Pacific Ocean’s depths surges to the surface, causing drought in some areas of the region while dumping excessive rain on others.The downpours in Colombia could last into the new year, meteorologists said.

What Does the BBC British Broadcasting Corporation Think?

( A tricky sentence in English. Intonation tells you if it’s:
“What? Does the BBC Think?” vs
“What DOES the BBC think…” vs
“What does The BBC think (about this). (with mild curiosity)”.
Sometimes the first of those is the most accurate…)


Yup, the “BEEB” carries the story, but with a more moderate bent.

Panama Canal shut by heavy rains

The Panama Canal is fed by rain that falls in the surrounding hills

Traffic through the Panama Canal – which connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans – has been temporarily suspended because of heavy rain.

The canal authority said the rains had pushed water levels in lakes that form part of the canal to historic highs, potentially endangering shipping.

It is the first time the canal has had to close since the US invasion of Panama in 1989.

Ah, yes, closed as recently as 1989. They do mention historic highs in lake level, but that is quickly brushed aside by reminders of a US Invasion and the implication that this is less important than a minor US skirmish somewhere and those nasty Yanks are always skirmishing in someones back yard… so what’s the worry?

Officials said they hoped normal traffic could resume “within hours”.

The last ship to pass through before the canal was closed left at midday, and some vessels were left idle in the waterway.

The canal authority said it was opening flood gates to reduce the water level in one of the lakes.

Simple operational thing, just a few hours, hardly worth a notice really…

Unless, of course, it’s a 180 degree turn around from the 2008 whine and bleat and it signals the death knell of Global Warming in a flood of reality.

They then go into a brief history and tech spec session on the canal that I’ll skip; but do mention other minor nuisance events that cause closures too:

Passage through sections of the waterway have been suspended in recent years because of accidents, but not operations along its entire length.

And they give a passing nod to the rains being rather far spread, but miss the significance, even while noting that it’s been “decades” (gee, like maybe 1/2 a PDO cycle?…)

Much of Central America as well as Colombia and Venezuela in South America have been experiencing its heaviest May-December rainy season in decades.

Maya and the Dresden Codex

One of the few remaining records from the Maya is the Dresden Codex. Many have tried to read this as predicting the end of the world in 2012. Others say it’s just counting the end of a calendar cycle. Perhaps it’s the end of a calendar cycle with meaning and importance. The Rain God figures in it, and in one TV show about it they described the iconography as saying that waters would pour from the heavens…

From the Wiki:

The Dresden Codex contains astronomical tables of outstanding accuracy. It is most famous for its Lunar Series and Venus table.[2] The lunar series has intervals correlating with eclipses. The Venus Table correlates with the apparent movements of the planet. Contained in the codex are almanacs, astronomical and astrological tables, and religious references.[2] The specific numen references have to do with a 260 day ritual count divided up in several ways.[5] The Dresden Codex contains predictions for agriculturally-favorable timing. It has information on rainy seasons, floods, illness and medicine. It also seems to show conjunctions of constellations, planets and the Moon.

Astronomical tables. Outstanding accuracy. Movements of the planets. Agriculturally favorable timing. Rainy seasons, floods. Hmmm… Wonder what they knew that we’re only learning again…

Think that’s kooky? How about this little bit of ‘light reading’ from Harvard:

“Title: Seasonal implications of Maya eclipse and rain iconography in the Dresden Codex”

It’s only a little over 300 pages… (I’ll save you some trouble. They conclude the Maya were tracking eclipses and rainy periods, but couldn’t figure out why… I think we’re learning why right now.)

In Conclusion

I think we’d better get used to these headlines for a decade or so. The world ocean has a huge heat overhang to dump, and it’s dumping it at a great rate. That means record rains if my surmise is correct. I do find it interesting that the Maya Codex in Dresden shows the Rain God Chac and shows the 2012 cycle end as characterized by a pouring of water from the sky… Maybe not so much a prediction of the end of the world as a recognition of the end of a periodic cycle that happens with lots of rain…


Precipitation "departures" from NOAA in Percent.  October 2010

Precipitation "departures" from NOAA in Percent. October 2010

A LOT of “big green”, not so many “big brown” and not nearly as large.

Of interest on a regional level, extreme wetness continued in Australia. Following its wettest September on record, October 2010 was Australia’s third wettest October of its 111-year period of record. Rainfall averaged across the country was 52.6 mm (2.07 inches)—more than two times higher the long-term average, due largely to well-above average rainfall in the tropical north and central portions of the country. The Northern Territory had its wettest October on record, 73.0 mm (2.87 inches) on average, breaking the previous record of 68.7 mm (2.70 inches) set in 2000, while South Australia and Western Australia each had their fifth wettest Ocotber. The rainfall was associated with the development of moderate to strong La Niña conditions earlier in 2010.

Tropical storm systems brought heavy rainfall to much of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and the southern Chinese island of Hainan, from the beginning to the middle of October. A reported 1,300 mm (51 inches) of rain fell in central Vietnam during the first week in October. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, La Niña conditions bring enhanced convection in the region. To the northwest, Super Typhoon Megi struck the northern Philippine island of Luzon on October 18th, bringing large amounts of rain to the region. Rainbands from the storm also brought heavy precipitation to Taiwan and Japan before making a second landfall over southeastern China’s Fujian province.

Yeah, a “cherry pick”, but this is my orchard ;-)

UPDATE: Canal Reopens after 17 hours


The Panama Canal has reopened after heavy rains forced its first closure in over two decades.

The 17-hour suspension had been ordered after the rainfall swelled nearby lakes, flowing into the key transport route that handles five per cent of global trade each year.

“The canal is now operating; the suspension was the result of the inclement weather around the canal basin and this part of the country,” Alberto Aleman Zubieta, the canal administrator, said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the Panama Canal Authority said downpours had filled the Gatun and Alhajuela lakes to historic levels, forcing it to suspend traffic for the first time since 1989 when the US invaded the country.

Ricardo Martinelli, the president of Panama, said it was the first time the canal had been closed because of weather since it opened in 1914.

“Our meteorologists say it’s never rained so much in Panama in the 73 years that we’ve kept climate records,” Martinelli said.

Well, again we have Al Jazeera with better news coverage. I may not agree with their political slant on Middle Eastern politics, but their straight news is pretty good.

Sidebar: They even cover the story of an Indian diplomat / ambassador getting fondled at an airport and that she didn’t like it, and maybe that’s not good for diplomacy:

But back on topic:

They have a side story about the generally heavy rains in South America with a startling picture of a mob of folks for the funerals of the dead.

This year’s rains have been devastating for some parts of the Americas.

In the past week, both Venezuela and Colombia have been badly hit. In Venezuela, the rains struck the north coast of the country, with a state of emergency declared in Vargas and Miranda, as well as the capital Caracas. 32 people lost their lives and thousands are homeless.

In Colombia, the flooding started almost as soon as the wet season did, right back in March. Since then the flooding has been steadily getting worse. It is estimated that 1.3 million Colombians have now been affected.

December is the end of the wet season in the region, but the rain has yet to finish. Over the next few days there will continue to be heavy showers over Venezuela and Colombia, but the real concern is for Panama, where heavy, persistent rain is forecast for the next few days at least.

So the canal is back in operation for now, but it’s still raining cats and dogs for a while. I don’t think this story is over just yet…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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18 Responses to Panama Canal Shut – Rain

  1. George says:

    I left it in the other thread but thought I would mention it here, there is also flooding in Australia and their wheat crop is feared damaged.

  2. George says:

    Oh, and if I were North Korea, with the Panama Canal closed, this might be an interesting time.

  3. George says:

    Darnit, don’t mean to spam the blog but just discovered another interesting detail. The two week period of the final week of November and first week of December were the coldest such period since records have been kept going back to 1659! That is from Joe Bastardi’s blog at AccuWeather here:

    And one final thing. If you go here:


    Period: Most Recent 12-month Period (might need to scroll the pick list down, it’s the last option)

    First Year To Display: 1998

    and then “Submit”

    You will notice a North American cooling trend of -0.91 degF / Decade now that is huge. That is about a degree F per decade or 10F per century if it were to continue.

    And be sure to check this out over at Bob Tisdale’s blog:

  4. ArndB says:

    # E.M.Smith “the cooling of the ocean will show up as excess rain.”

    Will it really work in that way, taking into account that all atmospheric water vapor is completely exchanged about every 10 days, or 35 times in one year. It might be a different question from whether “the cooling of the ocean (in one sea area) will show up as excess rain”, at a specific region for some time, e.g. Panama Canal.

    # “record cold in Cancun, record frozen in England, and the entire UK under snow. Oh, and flooding in Australia and Central America.”

    We are surprised that we did not know in advance. That is likely to continue as there is too little focus on the ocean, as complained already in an paper published 1993: “WARMING UP – SCIENCE OR CLIMATE” at:
    Regards Arnd Bernaerts

  5. Pingback: Panama Canal Shut After Big Rains | Sullivan's Travelers

  6. ' ted says:

    Re the map, is the Pacific east of the Atlantic ?

    2010 is the driest year in 98 years of rainfall records on our farm in the central wheatbelt of West Australia.

  7. boballab says:


    There is already some evidence of this. Back when there was that time period when there was 3 Cat 4 Hurricanes in the Atlantic, WUWT had series of loops of Satellite pictures and you can clearly see the tracks of the Hurricanes by the cooling of the SST’s where they passed. As we all know Hurricanes also bring massive amounts of rain:

    In that post there is one animation from NASA and the loops that show Danielle’s and Earl’s tracks and 1 for Igor.

    What you see is that as the Hurricanes pass the SST’s drop as much as 3°C and are visible for some time afterwards as they slowly heat back up to the surrounding levels. To me the question then becomes is that reheating from SW, mixing with other surface water, pulling heat from further down or a combination of all three.

  8. Pascvaks says:

    When the Sahara blooms it’s all over. Well… until it dies again.

  9. A profound and well thought post. Astronomical tables. Outstanding accuracy. Movements of the planets. Agriculturally favorable timing. Rainy seasons, floods. Hmmm… Wonder what they knew that we’re only learning again…
    I think there are people in our times that also “know”, however not everyone openly defy “settled science” (which, btw, it’s becoming really boring) and its “Flintstones’ Universe”.
    We are in need of a new “academia”to work on the traditional knowledge transmitted trough the ages and expressed in the “software” of “operative” symbols.

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    ‘ ted

    Re the map, is the Pacific east of the Atlantic ?

    2010 is the driest year in 98 years of rainfall records on our farm in the central wheatbelt of West Australia.


    And you will notice that Panama actually runs sort of East / West but with a bend in it. Given that, the Atlantic is more North of Panama and the Pacific South (though depending on where you are in the ‘bendy bit’ it can have an eastern or western ’tilt’. This is all just an artifact of Panama being a ‘wiggly line’ between two very large bodies of water so the ‘direction’ to each from the wiggle depends on, well, the wiggle ;-)

    Per your farm and drought: The chart above does show you under one of the “brown dots”, so my condolences on missing out on the rains in the rest of Australia. Then again, they are having flooding, so maybe it’s best to pass on that for just a bit…

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve added an UPDATE with some quotes from other news sources. The canal is back open, but the rains will keep coming…

  12. PhilJourdan says:

    It is all my fault! I just visited the canal back for the first time at the end of October – so it must be me!

    As for the record rain, that is strange. Our tour guide indicated that while Panama gets 120 inches of rain a year, December through February is their dry season. So I guess they are getting a LOT of rain compared to normal.

  13. E.M.Smith says:


    What I’ve noticed in the N.H. is a general lengthening of the cold / wet seasons. It’s rained a bit earlier and later in California. In the middle of the country and East Coast they have a load of cold and snow a bit early. Ski resorts were open a couple of week earlier (and closed later last year).

    The expected corollary to that would be longer rainy season in Central America. (Though it’s much easier to see looking backwards ;-)

    And could you visit Western Australia next? ‘ted could use the rain ;-)

    @Adolfo: I guess I have to learn Mayan next ;-)

  14. Larry Geiger says:

    I had never noticed that the canal basically runs north and south, not east and west. Cool!

  15. PhilJourdan says:

    E.M. – Well, Oz is on my list – but after this year, it may be a couple before I have the funds for that (and probably not in time for their crops).

  16. PhilJourdan says:

    Larry – yea, when we went that was the hardest thing to get use to. You THINK it runs east and west, but in fact it is north and south.

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