Of climate change and Kenya’s rains

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Kenya’s woes have just become worse after a dam burst in Nakuru on Wednesday evening.

The area downstream was densely populated and, as homes were swept away, at least 10 people were killed.

Dozens remain unaccounted and 500 families have been affected.

Western Kenya has been particularly badly hit by landslides and floods during this season of the “long rains”.

Much discussion has been, and will be, had about the inadequacy of infrastructure and building in vulnerable areas, nevertheless, the rains have been bigger than average.

As the sun comes north with the change of season, so the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) follows.

This is the belt of thunderstorms that encircle the world within the tropics moving the wet season north and south of the equator.

It is the movement of the sun that triggers the wet season but other influences determine how much rain will fall.

In the case of Kenya and its neighbours in East Africa, the temperature of the Indian Ocean is the major factor.

Over the last few years, the warmth of the surface layer of this ocean has increased more than that of any other.

This is almost certainly due to climate change and its effect on the flow of ocean currents.

These slow-moving rivers within the larger water masses are what transport heat from the tropics to the temperate regions.

Direct measurement of the ocean surfaces is done by thermometer and satellite.

NASA’s most recent evaluation shows that for 1,000km off the coast of Somalia and Kenya, the temperature at the surface of the Indian Ocean is about 1.5C higher than average.

That equates to a huge amount of energy, or warm water, all attempting to evaporate into the air above.

That extra water vapour makes showers and thunderstorms more vigorous.

More rain will fall out of every storm and the result will be a wetter-than-average rainy season, for some.

Western Kenya benefited during this season, with the inevitable consequences.

It started off with promise for agriculture, but the rain did not stop. And has not yet.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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