Ask about Philippine weather, and you'll learn the different names of the monsoons – amihan for the cool northeast monsoon that brings mostly cloudless skies and nippy mornings; and habagat for the southwest monsoon that brings the rains (and the typhoons).
Filipinos even have their own names for typhoons that differ from the system used elsewhere!
In recent years, the rise of “supertyphoons” like Haiyan have made the Philippines' weather a topic of significant concern. Located as it is at the easternmost habitable part of the Pacific typhoon belt, the Philippines bears the brunt of incoming storms: no tourist should fly in unprepared.
Philippines' Amihan, or Northeast Monsoon
The Philippines' high season (and most of the fiesta season, too) occurs with the blessings of Amihan – an avian figure from Philippine pre-Hispanic mythology that has since given its name to the cool northeast monsoon between October and April.
Amihan originates from the chilly plains of Siberia and Northern China, blowing down into Southeast Asia beginning in September. Resisted by the southwest monsoon, amihan finally breaks through and brings cool breezes and clearer skies to regions usually battered by heavy rains. Amihan's reign ends around April, when the southwest monsoon barges in from the Pacific Ocean bringing rainfall and gusty winds.
The Philippines' high season, from December to April, occurs during Amihan, as it coincides with the best weather the Philippines sees within the year. Cool air, rare rainfall, relatively low humidity and unthreatening sunshine make the Philippines' top tourist sites a positive joy to explore.
Philippines' Habagat, or Southwest Monsoon
Pre-Hispanic mythology regarded Habagat as the god of the winds, and his fury lives on in the local name for the southwest monsoon that hits between June and October.
The southwest monsoon blows in from the equatorial Pacific, bringing ample (sometimes excessive) rainfall and gusty winds that can transform into deadly typhoons. The rains bring welcome water for farmers toiling in rice fields, but sometimes cause havoc in riverside settlements and denuded hills (where the rains cause intermittent landslides).
The Philippines' low season takes place during habagat, as rains dampen beach parties and road trips everywhere.
Habagat, unfortunately, also brings typhoons: the kind that, in the worst possible cases, kill thousands and cost billions in reconstruction costs afterward. Fortunately, Filipinos have ways of dealing with typhoons. Read our tips for traveling during typhoon season for what to expect when a typhoon makes landfall in the Philippines, and how to deal.
Philippines' Weather Risks
Floods. During the habagat-driven rainy season, many parts of Manila are susceptible to flooding. While it may sound tempting to merrily wade into the shin-deep murky waters, this is actually highly inadvisable: the flood waters bring up some pretty nasty stuff from the sewers, and the opaque waters can hide openings that might be deep enough to swallow up the unwary.
Sunshine. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing: the sunshine during the Philippines' summer months between March and May carries higher levels of ultraviolet rays that can prematurely age your skin and raise the risk of heatstroke, sunburn and skin cancer.
Haze. Visitors to Cebu in October 2015 had an unpleasant surprise waiting: the haze that usually hovers over Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia had blown over to the Philippines as well, thanks to the unusual confluence of a recent typhoon and the habagat winds.
The haze usually affects Southeast Asia between June and November. The Philippines had largely escaped its effects till 2015; there's no guarantee that the scenario won't repeat itself again in the years to come. In haze-affected Singapore, locals turn to the National Environment Agency for haze updates and tips.
What's the Weather in the Philippines Now?
Most weather-savvy travelers to the Philippines turn to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the government agency that monitors the weather within its Philippine area of responsibility. PAGASA's "Project Noah" website (noah.dost.gov.ph) offers a first-hand, updated look at the Philippines' weather.
To see a computer-generated map of the Philippines' weather patterns right this minute, check out Windyty's view of the world's weather centered on the Philippines. Two other sites that offer information on weather in the Philippines: Tropical Storm Risk (tropicalstormrisk.com) and the U.S. Navy's Naval Research Library weather site.
What to Wear in the Philippines
Wear cottons and linens all year. Bring warmer clothes for cooler evenings or highland visits. Bring rainwear if you're visiting during the rainy season.