Natural Disasters in Singapore: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future
Singapore is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Thousands of tourists come here every year to admire the beauty of modern architecture and unexpected technological solutions. And, of course, they should know in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they might encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing its potential can help you prepare for it.
Climate characteristics of Singapore
The island of Singapore lies at the junction of two oceans, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, near the south-eastern tip of the Eurasian mainland. Large land areas, such as the Malacca Peninsula, Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands, shelter Singapore from the open sea on almost all sides. To the east, the island is washed by the shallow South China Sea.
Singapore is only 1 degree north of the equator. This is the reason for its equatorial climate, which is characterised by high rainfall and year-round heat. Rainfall is highest during the monsoon seasons of winter and summer. The relative humidity of the island can reach 100% during these periods.
Potentially damaging factors that could cause a natural disaster include:
- Monsoons and heavy rainfall. Can cause severe, though brief, flooding of the island’s rivers.
- Proximity to the Pacific Ring of Fire. Volcanoes in the Ring are in neighbouring Sumatra and Java. Their eruptions can cause earth tremors, tsunamis which can affect the islands of Singapore to varying degrees.
- Cyclones and hurricanes. Can lead to the formation of storms accompanied by destructive winds.
The importance of studying the history of disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be ahead of you not only allows you to choose the right place, but also the time of year when the threat of being in the midst of a natural disaster will be minimal.
For instance, knowing that the Singapore Islands have a steady rainfall from December to March, which means there’s a high probability of flooding, you might consider visiting the country at a different time of year.
You’ll find a chronology of natural disasters that have occurred in Singapore in the past in this article.
Although Singapore’s islands themselves are of volcanic origin, seismic activity is very low. The nearest tectonic fault is several hundred kilometres from the island. Singapore is shielded from earthquakes by the mainland platform in the north and one of the largest islands in the world, Sumatra, in the southwest. Incidentally, it is Sumatra that takes the beating of tsunamis and violent storms coming from the Indian Ocean.
26 December 2004
One of the most catastrophic earthquakes of this century occurred off the west coast of Sumatra. Magnitude of the tremors exceeded 9 points. Huge tsunami waves spread across the Indian Ocean. Several hundred thousand people died in different countries as a result. But even such a strong earthquake was barely felt in Singapore. It did not cause any destruction to the island.
25 May 2008
In the evening of May 25, a minor earthquake occurred in the Straits of Johor, separating Singapore and Sumatra. The magnitude of the tremors at the epicentre was only 4. Unsurprisingly, they caused no damage and were barely felt by Singaporeans.
20 August 2020
A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck 500 kilometres south of Singapore on the island of Sumatra in the early hours of this morning. Jolts were felt on the island, but there were no casualties or damage.
Singapore’s hurricane season coincides with the start of the monsoon. This occurs twice a year, in winter and summer. During this time, strong storms hit the island’s shores, causing relatively little damage.
26 June 2013
A severe tropical storm hit the west coast of Singapore, coming from the Indian Ocean. Winds tore down the roofs of houses, felled trees and were accompanied by heavy rainfall. At that time, a very rare phenomenon for Singapore occurred: large hailstorms. The hailstones pierced car windows and the roofs of buildings. Fortunately, casualties were avoided.
11 May 2019
During a hurricane that came from the South China Sea, a strong tornado formed in the water off the island’s east coast. It overturned several boats, but quickly dissipated and caused no damage on land. The Environment Agency explained that about three tornadoes form near Singapore every year, but they tend to disappear quickly as they make landfall.
The threat of a catastrophic tsunami for Singapore is extremely low. From the south, the giant island of Sumatra is sheltered by the narrow, shallow Johore Strait, where waves from the Indian Ocean crash.
To the east, the island is protected by the South China Sea. Here, it is very shallow and replete with islands, which also prevents tsunamis from gaining strength.
There are no recorded tsunami strikes in the country’s history which have caused destruction and loss of life.
There are dozens of small rivers on Singapore’s islands, the largest being the Kallang, which is only 10 kilometres long. The island also has a system of drainage reservoirs to collect rainfall and reduce the likelihood of river overflows. Despite this, heavy flooding, sometimes causing loss of life, occurred during periods of heavy rainfall.
19 December 2006
The day before, 366 millimetres of rain fell on the island, causing severe flooding in the early hours of the morning. As a result, low-lying areas of the capital, Thomson, Manday and Olive Road, were flooded. However, by 11am the floodwaters had receded, and the situation had normalised. There were no casualties.
June 16, 2010
Heavy rains caused flooding on Orchard Road, the town’s main street, where major shopping boutiques are located. No one was injured, but rescuers had to extract several dozen passengers from buses stranded on the street.
1 June 2011
Heavy rainfall provoked the fall of a tree in Novena Square, causing the gutter fence to collapse. This resulted in the death of a young boy who was dragged by the floodwaters into the gutter.
28 April 2013
A motorway in the east of the island was flooded as a result of severe flooding. Its driver was killed after a tree fell on a parked car.
The islands are of ancient volcanic origin, as evidenced by the igneous rocks found by geologists. But there has been no volcanic activity in the region for a long time, and Singapore can only be disturbed by the active volcanoes of neighbouring Indonesia. The threat from them is minimal.
For example, the Sinabung volcano on the island of Sumatra erupted in 2019. The ash column from the eruption rose to a height of 20 kilometres and was visible from Singapore. But the eruption had no effect on the country.
The closest active volcanoes to Singapore are Marapi, Tandikat, Talang, and Kerinki. They are all located on the island of Sumatra.
Singapore can be considered one of the safest islands in the world’s oceans in terms of natural disasters. There is minimal threat of tsunamis, active volcanoes are too far away to pose any real danger, earthquakes have never exceeded magnitude 4. There are no forest fires or dust storms, no landslides or rock-falls.
The only real threat to tourists in Singapore are hurricanes and flooding, which are the only hazards associated with them. The summer and winter monsoons bring heavy rainfall and lead to severe storms.
Therefore, it is safe to visit Singapore at any time of the year, although it is preferable to do so in spring and autumn, when there is less rainfall.