La Niña’s Ever-So-Rainy Dry Season





Simply Soaked Spotted Sandpiper

What a WET dry season we’ve been having this year, with just massive amounts of rain nearly every day lately! Our head cocinera (Saladero’s cook of 10+ years) Paulina, who’s grown up here on the remote east side of the Golfo Dulce, said she’s never seen a dry season like this in all her years.

While we are in winter up in the states and other temperate zones, here in the tropics it is actually summer. The summer here is known as the Dry Season, which means very little rain, and much warmer temperatures for the months of mid-November through early May.

But this year, according to Costa Rica’s National Meterological Institute (IMN), we’re finding ourselves well into a strong La Niña cycle, which means cooler, wetter weather as opposed to the more commonly known El Niño cycle which is just the opposite with hotter, drier climes than is the norm. This year’s La Niña cycle is projected to last through March or April of this year.

So La Niña has brought with her LOTS of rain. It seems to mostly occur in the early afternoon and has led to some very substantial downpours with even a few impressive thunderstorms, right overhead!

Costa Rica’s summer, or Dry Season, is also the high season–when tourism is at it’s max– during the months of April through mid-November. Perhaps when people planning to visit the tropics hear the words “Wet Season” they think that it actually rains all the time those months (can you blame them?). Rather, it actually is sunny and pleasant during the day and usually starts to rain in the late afternoon. Not to mention it’s the LOW season in terms of tourism, take that as you will.. 😉 But really, the Wet Season is much moreso the GREEN season, because when is the rainforest the happiest? When it rains, of course!

IMG_0066.JPGWith all this unusual rain of late thanks to La Niña, we’ve had a couple of large trees come down. This can often be due to oversaturated soil or just so many bromeliads (air plants which grow on tree trunks and branches) full with rainwater adding extra weight to our towering giants. Especially in the rainy season, it’s not unusual to hear a tree fall in the rainforest. We had an enormous balsa come down over on the beach the other night and, thanks to intel from our assistant grounds manager Oscar, we learned it already had a rotted out trunk so it was just a matter of time. But as a result of this consistent over saturation we’ve had here in the Golfo, water certainly had something to do with this tree’s final gasp. On its way, our giant easily took out a grown palm, snapping it off with gusto, midway up the trunk!

So here you have a lovely example of the cycles of nature. While one can’t yet say about the long term effects, trends and whether El Niño and La Niña cycles are changing or becoming more common as a result of climate change (as these events occur irregularly and can be spaced out by years), one might wonder how various species are being affected by these changes.

One example is our beloved sloth, who’s local population has seemed to have declined following the 2012 El Niño event of abnormally hot weather. We only started seeing sloths again in our garden cecropia about six weeks ago but haven’t seen them lately and wonder if this abnormal amount rain during the season might have any impact on these sensitive creatures. Another example of these events is how the sea temperatures during the 2012 cycle became so hot that a great deal of the coral here in the upper Golfo were killed off and is only just starting to rebound. Isn’t it interesting to think about how important a stable climate is for our fellow life here on this planet we’re for so fortunate to share it with?



Another interesting example is what’s going on in the Golfo Dulce. All of this rain is cooling off the warm, protected gulf and we’ve seen (and grounds manager and boat capitan Davíd has even caught!) Dorado, or Mahi Mahi, a species of dolphin fish, here in the golf. Something that is wildly rare to see as this is a pelagic, cold-water species. We were lucky enough to have one for dinner, the day Davíd pulled in his monster Dorado by handline, grabbing it by the tail at the last minute to lift swiftly into the boat.

It’s interesting to watch this natural phenomenon, the La Niña cycle from our own “back porch”. Life is certainly being affected by this wildly abnormal weather and while we’re included, that life certainly isn’t just us. Stay along for the ride for future updates about what else we might be witnessing as a result!

About Stacey M. Hollis

Tropical guide and naturalist at Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge on Isla Bastimentos set within Panama's Caribbean Bocas del Toro archipelago. My aim is to share my passion for birds and the awesome biodiversity of the tropics while spreading the word about the importance of environmental conservation.
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