GRANADA—One or two freak showers at the beginning of the dry season is normal. Three or four unseasonable rains in late December is curious. But repeated cloudbursts at the end of January—nearly three months after the rainy season has supposedly ended—smells like climate change.
At least that’s the theory that Nicaraguan meteorologists are sniffing out as they tally and analyze national precipitation data after a weirdly wet January.
“This is not very normal for us,” says Marcio Baca, director of meteorology at the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies.
Baca explained that 2012 is a “La Niña” year, when El Niño’s evil twin sister cackles into town with a period of rain and cold fronts. But the weather in Nicaragua these days is fickle even by her eccentric standards, Baca said.
“The climatic variability suggests there is a perturbation in La Niña,” he said.
Baca says that it’s normal for there to be rainfall in January in the boscage of the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS, respectively), but it shouldn’t still be raining on the Pacific coast, where “summer” has supposedly sprung.
“The climate swings are becoming more extreme,” Baca said. “It either rains too much or not enough.”
Baca says 2012 is not the first time on record it has rained on the Pacific coast in January, but this year the rains are falling with increased frequency and intensity, which is why INETER is now tallying month-end data to compare with precipitation levels from previous years.
The weather is also affecting crop cycles and harvests, especially for red beans and coffee.
Beans need a lot of water when they are planted, but dry conditions for harvest. If rains continue during the harvest season, weed growth can often strangle the bean harvest and reduce the yield.
Last year’s bean harvest, which came during a dry “El Niño” year, was larger than normal. That’s why there is a current glut on the market, prompting bean growers to bicker over exportation rights as domestic prices tumble. The expected troubles from this year’s bean harvest won’t be felt until the beginning of 2013, when this year’s crop goes to market.
The coffee market, however, is already getting wet and upset.
Unseasonable rains last December caused a premature bloom of coffee cherries, forcing Nicaragua coffee producers to scramble last month to hire seasonal pickers several weeks before the normal coffee-picking season, at risk of losing the harvest.
But the rush to the fields meant Nicaraguan coffee farmers had to hike their wages nearly 40% to convince season coffee pickers to stay in town for the local harvest rather than emigrate to Costa Rica or Honduras to pick coffee there for a higher price, according to José Angel Buitrago, president of Association of Nicaragua Coffee Exporters (EXCAN).
In addition to the late rains and early harvests, La Niña’s cold front has Nicaraguans up north rummaging in the closet for their only sweater.
“It’s cold up in Matagalpa; cold for us, at least,” Buitrago told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “This is definitely climate change. And the only ones who are winning are the coffee pickers.”