San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tips for staying dry, safe this rainy season

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Costa Rican summer isn’t going to last forever. We’re not pleased about it either.

The rainy season officially begins Sunday, and if you’ve been outside during the afternoon hours of recent days, you may have noticed the Costa Rican winter arrived a tad prematurely.

 On Tuesday in the Central Valley, a quick 30-minute dousing of winter rain chased a hot and sunny morning. Clouds rolled in at about 1:30 p.m., followed by groans of thunder, a darkened sky and about a half-hour of downpour. As quickly as the skies opened up, they closed, and by 3 p.m. the sun was peaking back through the clouds.

 It was a dose of weather to come.

“The rainy season begins in early to mid-May and lasts until the end of November in the Central Valley and most of the Pacific region,” said Rebeca Morera, a meteorologist at the National Meteorology Institute (IMN). “The mornings are typically very warm and hot, followed by rains in the early and late afternoon. This is the standard weather pattern almost every day, and it is very rare to have an afternoon without rain.”

For readers caught without umbrellas this week, cold showers serve – as cold showers should – as a wake-up call. Unsuspecting pedestrians out for a late lunch or running an early afternoon errand were forced to quickly scramble for an awning, a corner store, or open restaurant to find shelter. Staying dry meant a range of tactics: folded arms overhead, quick-paced walk-running, briefcase umbrellas and the group huddle under a single umbrella.

 “I left my umbrella by my door this morning because I didn’t think I would need it,” said Agustín Romero as he stood shaking the water from his hair underneath the awning of a downtown San José bakery. “That was a bad decision. After today, I’m going to start bringing it with me every day.”

Summer is likely over, or nearly over at the least. Here’s a list to help prepare for Costa Rica’s rainy season:

1. Buy an umbrella, carry an umbrella

This is a pretty simple rule to live by in the next few months. Buy umbrellas at any grocery store, most pulperías and on most crowded city streets, where vendors are likely stationed anywhere people gather. Prices range from $3-20.

 Get in the habit of taking your umbrella everywhere. You can prevent those humbling moments of self-loathing when you return to your office or house sopping wet, only to find your perfectly dry “sombrilla” nestled in the corner.

2. Buy cheap or buy expensive, but go non-metallic

There are two theories about buying an umbrella. Some believe that losing an umbrella is inevitable, therefore cheaper is better. Others believe that buying an expensive umbrella will ensure that the owner will be more careful not to lose it.

“Usually people who are more mobile and who rely on public transportation, buses, trains, taxis and walking, are more likely to lose umbrellas. There is a higher likelihood that they will be left somewhere,” Morera said. “People with cars usually hold on to their umbrellas longer because they have a secure place to store them when commuting.”

The advantage of a cheap umbrella is that, if you do lose it, you’re not squandering a large investment. The disadvantage of a cheap umbrella is, well, it’s cheap. It breaks easier, is less effective and is less reliable against punishing tropical rains.

Either way, avoid buying umbrellas that have a metallic tip. Meteorologists warn that umbrellas with metal tips have higher risks of being struck by lightning. Wood or plastic tips are safer.

3.  Rain-proof your abode 

When it rains in Costa Rica, it usually pours. Powerful rains batter tin roofs and thin walls of many Costa Rican homes and apartments. To ensure the rain stays out of your house, stay vigilant during the rainy season. Reseal the lining on your ceiling and walls. Plug leaks as soon as you spot them. Clean the gutters so that water flows off your roof and doesn’t pool. Buy new outdoor doormats to wipe your wet feet on when you return home.

 Another wise decision during the rainy season is to unplug everything when you leave the house in the morning. Though it sounds tedious, with the daily anticipation of afternoon rain, unplugging home devices, televisions, Internet routers and lamps prior to leaving for the day can assure you that a high voltage lightning strike won’t result in fried appliances. While some consider this unnecessary, if lightning strikes and scorches wiring in your home appliances, damages can be costly. Better safe than sorry.

4.  Consider a flu shot  

Flu shots always generate debate, but with excessive rains on the horizon, local health clinics and hospitals are offering them up like waiting-room lollipops. Several health clinics offer discounted rates on flu shots during the next few weeks. 

While some people consider flu shots futile, the rainy season causes higher rates of colds, flu and other seasonal illness. The weather is cold and wet, and if caught in a monsoon-like drenching, these tips can help: Increase your intake of fruits, teas, light soups, water and Vitamin C, and avoid dramatic fluctuations in body temperature, which often results in flu or cold symptoms.

5. Fight off them skeeters   

Mosquitoes love Costa Rica. During the rainy season, mosquitoes breed more frequently. As afternoon rains stop and night humidity sets in, mosquitoes come out to play. At first sight of a mosquito in your house during rainy season, consider going on the defensive and buying a plug-in ball device that emits a mosquito intoxicant, which helps rid your house of the buzzing pests within a matter of days. The anti-mosquito device is almost odorless and can be found at any local grocery store.

Another mosquito concern during rainy season is dengue. Last year – a particularly rainy year by national standards – more than 26,000 people contracted dengue, resulting in one death, according to the Health Ministry.

“You always need to be aware of standing, dirty water near your property, because that is where dengue breeds,” Morera said. “Things such as flower pots and plant pots and tires need to be cleaned and monitored often, as they can carry old, stagnant water that breeds mosquitoes.”

Also keep in mind that dengue-carrying mosquitos often attack during the day, so make sure to always use insect repellant when going outside.

Last But Not Least…

Morera said that the most important rainy season tip is to be prepared. “Even if it doesn’t look like rain, it most likely will rain. Take the proper precautions. Be prepared.”

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