A heavy downpour expected to strike the entire country this week has been attributed to the unusual warming of the Indian Ocean.
The phenomenon, called the Indian Ocean Dipole, happens nearly every 10 years, unleashing destructive rains and flooding across East Africa.
More than one million people have been displaced in Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Tanzania – but scientists say more misery is coming.
Kenya’s Meteorological Department yesterday warned that beginning today a heavy deluge will sweep across the country.
Assistant Director of KMD Dr. David Gikungu had yesterday predicted the rains would begin last night, doubling in intensity tomorrow.
“The rainfall is expected to intensify to more than 40 millimeters in 24 hours from Thursday 21 to Sunday, November 24, 2019,” he said in a statement.
The warm weather and heavy rains are favorable for many crops. Weary tea farmers in central Kenya are currently sleeping in buying centers waiting for already strained factories to accept their bumper harvests for processing.
Yesterday, Dr. Gikungu put the entire country on alert, saying there was an up to 66 percent certainty more heavy rains are coming.
The Indian Ocean dipole, sometimes called the Indian El Niño, is an irregular change in the sea temperature in the western (near Kenya’s coast) and eastern (closer to Australia) areas of the Indian Ocean.
When the ocean around East Africa is far warmer than usual, there is higher evaporation and moist air flowing inwards into East African countries as heavy rains.
Scientists say this year the strength of the dipole is of a magnitude not seen in years, perhaps even decades.
“A strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole, which is currently +2.06 degrees, is quite favorable for enhanced rainfall in the country,” Met director Stella Aura said last month.
She predicted the current rainfall would continue until early December, with occasional dry breaks.
“Floodwaters may suddenly appear even in places where it has not rained heavily and can be deeper and faster than they look,” she said.
Aura also advised Kenyans to avoid driving through or walking in moving water or open fields and not take shelter under trees and near grilled windows to minimize exposure to lightning strikes.
She put on alert people in landslide‐prone areas, especially on the slopes of the Aberdare Ranges, Mt Kenya and other hilly areas in the western region.
Aura said that the ground is already saturated with water.
“This (rain) coupled with the already saturated grounds is likely to continue causing floods and landslides in affected parts of the country,” Aura said in a statement.
The IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre, based at Dagoretti Corner, also said above-average rainfall was expected to persist until December. The positive dipole, it said, was “likely” responsible.
The last major positive dipole was in 2006 when more than 300 people were killed in region-wide flooding caused by unseasonal rains.