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Changing winds


The weather in Malaysia is characterised by two monsoon regimes, namely, the Southwest Monsoon from late May to September, and the Northeast Monsoon from November to March. The Northeast Monsoon brings heavy rainfall, particularly to the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia and western Sarawak, whereas the Southwest Monsoon normally signifies relatively drier weather. The transition period in between the monsoons is known as the intermonsoon period.

What is Monsoon?

The word "monsoon" is derived from the Arabic word "mausim" which means season. Ancient traders plying in the Indian Ocean and adjoining Arabian Sea used it to describe a system of alternating winds which blow persistently from the northeast during the northern winter and from the opposite direction, the southwest, during the northern summer.

What causes Monsoon?

Monsoon is caused by land-sea temperature differences due to heating by the sun's radiation. In winter, the continental landmass cools rapidly resulting in extremely low temperatures over central Asia. As temperature drops, atmospheric pressure rises and an intense high pressure system (anticyclone) develops over Siberia. Cold air flows out of Siberia as northwesterlies and turns into northeasterlies on reaching the coastal waters of China before heading towards Southeast Asia.

From time to time, strong outbursts of cold air (termed as monsoon surges) interact with low pressure atmospheric systems and cyclonic vortices are formed near the equator resulting in strong winds and high seas in the South China Sea and heavy rainfall to east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia as well as the west coast of Sarawak in East Malaysia.

In summer, intense solar heating leads to scorching temperatures over the Asian landmass. As hot air expands and rises upwards, a semi-permanent low-pressure area develops. Moist southeasterlies originating from the southern Indian Ocean and the Indonesian-Australian region transforms into southwesterlies on crossing the equator and flow across Southeast Asia before converging towards Indochina, China and Northwest Pacific.

Characteristics of Monsoon


The northeast monsoon is the major rainy season in the country. Monsoon weather systems which develop in conjunction with cold air outbreaks from Siberia produce heavy rains which often cause severe floods along the east coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and East Johore in Peninsular Malaysia, and in the state of Sarawak in East Malaysia.

* Monsoon floods

Following the southward march of the monsoons, typical expected monthly rainfall maximum are:
Kelantan, Terengganu 600 mm (November)
Pahang and East Johor 600 mm (December)
Sarawak 400-700 mm (January)

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