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                     Guam's Climate

    The temperature here is pretty constant throughout the year; it's almost always fairly hot (in the high eighties, Fahrenheit). It feels hotter than it actually is because of the high humidity. It gets a little cooler (a few degrees) in the "winter," that is, around January through March. It is never cold or even close to it, although people who have lived here awhile complain they are freezing on those rare days when the temperature drops down into the 70s. The only way to get cold on Guam is to go into places with air conditioning. Some places go nuts with AC. My classroom at the University of Guam, for example, is so cold that students have been known to come to class wearing parkas and gloves.

    Guam has two seasons, the wet season (July - December) and the dry season (January - June). For people accustomed to temperate zone climates, the differences between these seasons are subtle. Some years we have a wet dry season or a dry wet season, making the distinction even less obvious. During the dry season, the winds typically intensify. These are the trade winds. The weather may be dry enough so that the grass turns brown and we get a lot of brush fires. Intermittent streams may dry up. During the wet season, we get rain several times a day.

    Even during the rainy season, Guam is mostly sunny. It is rare to get those kinds of days where the whole sky is gray and overcast and it rains all day. Usually our rain clouds are small, intense packages that dump their contents torrentially and then move on. The rain is pleasantly warm, although if you are on your way to someplace air-conditioned when it hits, you may not appreciate the shower. 
Thumbnail of thunderhead. 
    Although Guam doesn't get as hot as many places in the United States interior get during the summer, the sun here is more direct, and therefore more dangerous. It is easy to get sunburned here, and skin cancer can be a serious problem.

For a current Guam weather report, visit the National Weather Service Office, Tiyan, Guam website. 


    People sometimes call Guam "typhoon alley," because we get hit by them so often. A typhoon is the same thing as a hurricane.

    I have been told that Guam gets hit by an average of one typhoon every eight years. I don't know if that figure is just plain wrong, or if we are living in special times, but since my family moved to Guam in 1991 we have been through at least a dozen. Most of these have been little typhoons, or ones where the eye missed us, but a few of them have been very serious storms. The last one we experienced before leaving Guam was Supertyphoon Paka, which hit us right before Christmas, 1997.

    Guam is exceptionally well-prepared for typhoons. Homes are concrete bunkers built to withstand the winds. It makes for ugly architecture, but after going through a typhoon or two, you wouldn't have it any other way! Furthermore, people are well-educated about how to prepare for typhoons. The government issues warnings of incoming typhoons, and many people enjoy "typhoon tracking" by plotting the locations of the eye of the typhoon as the positions are announced on the radio. Predicting the time and place of arrival of a typhoon is tricky because they move erratically. Predicting how big the typhoon will be when it hits is also tricky. With Typhoon Omar (1992), we were told to expect a "banana flattener" or small storm, and it turned out to be a monster. Other storms have turned away and missed us at the last moment. On several occasions, schools were canceled, the typhoon missed us, and we all had a beautiful, sunny holiday.

    We usually get two or three days warning that a typhoon may hit us. We make sure that we are well-stocked with canned food, drinking water, batteries for flashlights and radios, and fuel for stoves. We put up storm shutters or cover the windows with plywood, pick up fallen coconuts around the house, and put away anything that might be blown away during the typhoon. We fill up our bathtubs and garbage cans with water for flushing the toilet. We clean every bit of laundry we can find and wash all the dishes. Pregnant women go to the hospital because the low pressure associated with typhoons can induce labor. Stupid people head to the beach to go surfing on the big waves brought in by the typhoon. Thumbnail of palm trees being blown by the typhoon.Nervous boat owners move their boats to the harbor of refuge and tie them up as well as they can. Some boat owners stay on their boats for the storm. People concerned about the safety of their housing go to the typhoon shelters that have been set up in the public schools. Everyone else goes home and waits. We listen to the radio as the storm moves in. The winds gradually pick up until they are screaming and moaning like a jet about to take off. The power goes off. Sometimes it comes back on again, but usually it's off for the duration of the storm. We get out the fluorescent lamps or the Coleman lantern (although the latter is smelly and hot), and look for things to do that don't require electricity or much light. Even if it's day outside, the storm shutters make the house dark inside. We listen to people calling in to the radio station, describing what the storm is like for them. We occasionally risk a peak out the bathroom window (no shutters for that one), although if it's night, there is nothing to see. We check the windows and doors to make sure that no water is coming in. The typhoon is actually somewhat fun until the water starts to come in. The typhoon drives water against the house with the force of a fire hose, and water comes pouring through any existing crack, such as the space under the door. Almost everyone has at least some water come in during a big typhoon. When the water starts to pour in, we get out the buckets, the mop and the towels and mop it up as fast as we can, while trying to figure out how to seal (or reseal) the crack. After awhile, our arms ache from wringing out towels. All those nice clean towels that we washed before the storm -- all are used up trying to keep the water under control. People calling the radio station describe windows being blown out, tin roofs peeling off, storm shutters being carried away, air conditioners being blown into the house, all followed by torrents of water. If we're lucky, the radio station succeeds in staying on the air, because that voice in the dark is very comforting.

    When the eye comes, we go outside and look around, even though we know we're not supposed to. Omar's eye crossed us during the day. It was not a completely clear eye (it was cloudy), but the eye was a profound relief after the pounding of the typhoon wall. Outside, the wind blew in gentle little gusts. We looked around, marveling at the damage around us: the shattered and topless trees, the big sheets of tin lying around. The bedrock hummed and vibrated beneath our feet. Butterflies came out (from where???) and fluttered around. Our neighbor, a retarded man, was outside moaning, "Oh, no, oh, no..." His fruit trees had been devastated. Vegetation (called "storm salad") was plastered all over our house.

    When the other side of the eyewall hits, the winds are coming from the opposite direction. This can Thumbnail of the same trees blowing in the opposite good or bad depending on how your house is situated. Our house is a duplex, so we have one windowless side. We have taken our hits during the first half of typhoons, and our neighbors got it for the second half. 
Thumbnail of the upside-down house.
    Afterwards, when it's safe to go outside, we go out and look at the damage in the neighborhood. After Omar, our post office was gone, a neighbor's mobile home was upside down, and utility poles were snapped in two. After Dale, a fairly small typhoon, boulders had been deposited on the roads by big waves. Paka took down our neighbor's cinderblock wall and drove a large piece of debris Thumbnail of cars destroyed by the typhoon.through a friend's car and demolished it. Several of our neighbors lost the roofs of their homes. Listening to the radio, I heard the publicity director of the University of Guam announce that the third floor of the Science Building was gone. My office is on the third floor of the Science Thumbnail of the cars from another view.Building! I was eager to check this out, to see if I could rescue any of my books or files, but I couldn't get there for awhile because the roads were impassable with downed trees, utility Thumbnail of post office destroyed by the typhoon.poles and wires. When I finally got there, I found that he had exaggerated somewhat. My office was still there. In fact, it was completely dry and untouched. But the two classrooms on that floor were destroyed. 
Thumbnail of college classroom destroyed by typhoon. 
    Then comes the really dreary part of the typhoon: the recovery. People made homeless by the storm have to rebuild. On Guam, most homes come through relatively okay, but homes with tin roofs take a beating. People try to dry out their rugs and blankets inbetween the rains that move through. The power is off islandwide, of course, but a lot of people have generators. The generators are noisy and smelly Thumbnail of utility pole snapped in half by the typhoon.and very annoying to those of us who don't have generators. With power off, there is no refrigeration, no lights, no air conditioning, no computers. Some people lose water, too, but after Omar, the government put emergency generators on the water pumps, so most of us didn't lose water after Paka. Unfortunately, some of the emergency generators had been stolen, so some people were left without water.

    Without air-conditioning or refrigeration, the bacteria and mildew in the house flourish, and it stinks inside. The ants invade. The exhaust from the neighbors' generators fills the house with terrible, headache-inducing fumes, made worse by the smoke coming from other people burning garbage. It becomes worth the time and effort to drive for forty-five minutes to get a cold drink with ice in it.

    When the power comes back on at last, it is too glorious for words. 

by Brenna Lorenz and Mike Pulte.


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