E.Africa Drought?

E.Africa Drought?

We abandon Lake Manyara because it’s too hot and dry. I think this is global warming.

We entered the park around 11:30a coming from Tarangire. A midday game drive in Lake Manyara for safaris traveling north from Tarangire to the crater is commonplace. We take a picnic lunch and sit by the lakeshore watching flamingoes.

We didn’t see any flamingoes. There wasn’t enough water in this usually giant lake for them. At the most famous place in the park, where a large stream runs into its northwest top drawing upwards of 100 hippo and hundreds of breeding birds, we saw around 20 hippo and no breeding birds.

The beautiful varied trees of Manyara were losing their leaves. And it was 95 F! After we guffed down our lunch, we raced out to the Karatu highlands where it was so much nicer.

Droughts have been a part of Africa for all of recorded history. We used to think of them as coming every ten years. But the last real drought in East Africa was in 1992-94, so we are certainly due. But many believe we’ll never get a normal drought, again. Rather, we’ll experience the unusual mini-droughts simultaneously with flooding nearby, which is wrecking havoc on this ecosystem.

Manyara is absolutely experiencing a drought. But Tarangire to the south, and Ngorongoro and the Serengeti to the north, are not having a drought. In fact, the southern Serengeti had some flooding yesterday.

In Laikipia in Kenya (the area in which Samburu is located), there was only one week of rains in November. Normally this area’s short rains begin in November and continue for 6 or 7 weeks. There were areas further to the east that missed the Short Rains altogether. The Ewaso Nyiro River which divides Samburu with Buffalo Springs national park that normally dries for only a week in October has been dry since January 12.

Yet in the Aberdare Mountains, a mere 45 air miles south of Samburu, it was pouring when we were there, and at least for a diagonal strip that we explored from The Ark towards the west edge of the park, it was lush and well watered.

I remember in February, 2007, the first time in memory that the Serengeti was parched at that time (except during the years of drought, and 2007 was definitely anything but a drought). Unschooled observers thought was just an interlude between short and long rainy seasons. (And it down poured before and after.)

This was dead wrong, at least historically. The “short rain-long rain” climate area has been restricted to areas east of a north-south line from Nairobi to Arusha. West of this line was a single rainy season the first half of the year followed by a dry season the last half (where the Serengeti lies). This is beautifully illustrated on a large display at the Serengeti park gate at Naabi Hill.

That difference in a relatively small area highlights the microclimate tendencies of an equatorial region. But now it’s being accentuated. The clear line that divided the two climatic zones is being fractured. And to confuse things further, when it rains, it pours. When it’s dry, it’s a drought. And all of this is happening in an extremely small area from a meteorological perspective.

I asked one of my clients on this safari, George Halley, to help me understand if this was unusual. George is a farmer in Illinois with 3000 acres of corn harvested annually. He explained that not too many years ago his area was completely dry, whereas ten miles away they had more than 4″ of rain in a short time. So to a certain extent, then, micro climates happen everywhere, and always have.

Are we just, then, noticing them more? Or is it really global warming?

I think it’s global warming. George was uncertain if that climatic anomaly happened often in the past on the Illinois prairies. I know that it didn’t happen, here. Obviously not every square inch of ground got the same amount of rain as the next, but there certainly wasn’t as great a difference between Manyara and Tarangire as we all saw this week.

And the quick ending mini-droughts of the sort the Serengeti experienced in February, 2007, have little if any precedent. And certainly the torrential downpours that precede then follow these periods of exaggerated dryness are not historical.

For George and his genetically engineered corn group and state of the art drainage ditches, the effects are less severe than for the poor farmers in Manyara, whose crops are withering or washing away. I think that for those of us who enjoy a better station in life than the farmers in Manyara, we better take another very serious look at the effects of global warming.