Panic sets in as rains elude region

By Timo Shihepo

Windhoek – The southern African region is facing prospects of another drought, as there are no signs of rain despite regional meteorologists predicting above-normal rainfall across the region.

Meteorologists and weather experts, who met during the annual Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF-21) in Botswana last year, predicted that the region would get above-normal rainfall from January to May, but two weeks into the New Year, fears of another dry season are rising.

All that can be observed are wilting crops, heatwaves and lack of water sources for animals.

The central and south-western parts of the region also experienced below normal rainfall at the beginning of the rainy season, that is, during the months of October, November and December 2017.

The period January to May is the second part of the main rainfall season over most of southern Africa. Owing to the differences and evolution patterns in the predominant rainfall-bearing systems, the rainy season has been subdivided into three overlapping three-month periods – January-February-March; February-March-April and March-April-May.

Namibia’s environmental minister, Pohamba Shifeta, told The Southern Times that he is still optimistic that good rains could still come but warned that signs of a dry season are there.

“It is still early to say that the meteorologists got it wrong with their southern African rainfall predictions.

“The projections are that we are going to get good rains this year. We are in the second week of January and we don’t have rains yet. However, rain in Namibia and some southern African parts normally starts around the 15th.

“But if we do not get anything by the 20th January, I think we might start to panic a little bit. People have already started ploughing and we need rain for these plants,” he said.

According to forecasts, westernmost parts of Angola, Namibia, south-western part of South Africa, northwesternmost parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and eastern Madagascar are expected to receive normal to below-normal rainfall from January to May 2018.

The pattern is similar to the one recorded a year ago when the region received little rainfall culminating in El Nino drought – the worst in 35 years.

The drought left more than 23 million people requiring urgent humanitarian assistance and a further 13 million food insecure.

“We really need good rains not just for the plants but for the dams that are set to run dry by end of this year if no good rains are received. We need good rains so that the dams can sustain us for at least three years,” said Shifeta.

Below-normal rainfall is defined as within the driest third of rainfall amounts and normal is the middle third, centred on the climatological median.

The climate scientists took into account oceanic and atmospheric factors that influence climate over SADC region. In particular, the Eastern and Central Tropical Pacific Ocean have cooled to a weak La Nina level. Based on the predictions and expert assessment, the chance of La Niña continuing into the first quarter of 2018 is 70-75 percent.

La Niña is a cooling of the water in the equatorial Pacific, which occurs at irregular intervals, and is associated with widespread changes in weather patterns complementary to those of El Niño, but less extensive and damaging in their effects.

“Because of the first week of January without rain, we cannot say the forecast is wrong as it was only seven days that the forecast did not perform as per our estimation,” said Namibia’s Meteorological Service chief technician for climate and databank, Simon Dirkse. The lack of rainfall in southern Africa is partly blamed on the tropical storm that hit Madagascar last week.  Tropical cyclones suck most of the moisture meaning that there was little moisture in the rest of the southern African countries resulting in less rainfall.

The cyclone in Madagascar is, however, now cooling and meteorologists believe that this would bring about rain to the rest of southern Africa.

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