Weathermen in race to improve their forecasts

An animal carcass in Mpeketoni, Lamu County. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

What you need to know:

  • Experts work on programme for better predictions to help farmers, pastoralists and other groups plan better, enhance yields and forestall calamities such as floods.

Kenya has in recent times witnessed bursts of extreme weather conditions that have cost human lives and disrupted food and commodity markets.

For instance, for several months in the first-half of this year most parts of country suffered prolonged droughts which affected water and agricultural systems — triggering a rally in inflation and prices of key food items such as maize, tea and coffee.

Unfortunately, the dry spell was cancelled by extremely heavy rains in many parts of the country in the second-half of the year causing more sorrow than joy due to destruction caused by flash-floods.

Though frustrating, such wild swings in weather conditions are not new in Kenya ­just like in other parts of the world. Many a time Kenyans question the ability of the weatherman to accurately predict weather, saying wrong predictions have led to agony.

A team of scientists is however working to develop a special early forecast tool that would help improve the tracking of weather patterns in Kenya.

The experts are conducting a research through a UK government funded Forecast-based Preparedness Action programme (ForPAc) in conjunction with Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) and its UK counterpart.

“It is important to look at the extreme climate and weather issues surrounding us, basically floods and drought. An early warning system (EWS) is being developed to tackle these climatic and weather extremes,” Ayub Shaka, a deputy director at the KMD said during an interview.

Experts attribute the current unpredictability of weather to climate change.

On the other hand, limited consumption of weather information has led to loss of lives, livelihoods and property due to natural hazards.

“We want to take action by using forecasts before there is extreme malnutrition or mortality,” Martin Todd, the principal investigator at the ForPAc programme said.

“Most of the severe climate change effects are experienced by the most vulnerable people in the developing world,” he added.

“Weather predictions are about probabilities, they are not 100 per cent correct.” The early warning system targets to help farmers and other groups to forestall losses due to extreme weather conditions. The aim is to improve forecasts on floods and drought and act effectively to lessen effects of weather and climate extremities.


“We are changing from being reactive to proactive by trying to reduce the effect before the situation becomes an emergency,” Prof Todd said in a recent interview.

The programme will put forth information with the aim of notifying pastoralists and farmers on when to sell livestock or make hay, the kind of crops to grow, when to dig boreholes, pans, or when to effect cash payments.

“Even if you take action and drought does not occur, there is no loss. We hope to improve the quality of predictions and to make them right more often as well as package the information more effectively for decision makers,” the lead researcher said.

The new system will supplement Kenya’s revamped weather forecast systems and help farmers and other groups plan better.

“It is not that we have nothing existing in the country, but the current research aims at producing area specific forecasts and a regular update of weather conditions, and come up with early warning systems (EWS),” said Mr Shaka.

The KMD recently adopted a state-of-the-art weather and climate forecasting technology that is based on computer simulated weather and climate models.

Through this system, daily forecasts are updated at an interval of three to six hours compared to the previous 24-hour forecast, said Mr Shaka.

Officials however said the system needs further improvement to ensure better reliability.

“The current daily forecasts are too broad and we issue them at longer intervals (24 hours) for any kind of a weather event, for example floods.

“This project gives KMD an opportunity to use the UK met office’s high capacity computing facilities to generate model outputs every three to six hours. We will hook our computers to the UK computers so as to get this information,” said Mr Shaka.

The programme is being piloted in drought-prone areas of Isiolo and Kitui so as to establish patterns. It is also being piloted in Nairobi and Trans Nzoia, two regions where floods have had devastating effects.

Experts drawn from different organisations in the UK and Kenya, which include HelpAge International (HAI), IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), KMD, Kenya Red Cross, Kings Collage (KCL-UK), the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA-Kenya), the UK Met Office, University of Oxford (UOx-UK), and University of Sussex (UoS-UK) are collecting, analysing and modelling data to develop the EWS.

Through the research, scientists will establish reasons for people and organisations not utilising weather forecasts to manage risks.

“Information is always given but there could be limitations in utilising it. Once the research is complete, we will use the early warning systems to issue alerts more frequently and on specific areas,” said Mr Shaka.

He said that KMD has moved from mainstream media weather updates to sending short messages. It also disseminates information through barazas and opinion leaders.

Through the EWS, it is going to be possible to know the frequency of floods and drought in the areas under study, said Mr Shaka.

The new system will not only help individuals but also firms like NDMA, county governments and related organisations to develop action plans to counter effects of climate change, he said.

“Using this information, agricultural officers will develop advisories for farmers on when to plant and seed varieties they should use or when to buy seeds and fertilisers. The county governments will also be in a position to review their integrated developments plans” said Mr Shaka.

It will lead to the establishment of programmes at the community level designed to respond more effectively to the forecasts, he said.

The system aims to help curb costs and losses since there will be an opportunity to take action before the emergency stage.


“It is believed that it will save lives and property through appropriate action taken in good time,” said Prof Todd.

After a successful research, the early warning system will be used elsewhere in the country and in East Africa, he added.

Kenya will therefore become a regional information centre in support of climate resilience programmes in other East African countries.

In the meantime, the meteorological department has predicted that rainfall will be well distributed across the country during this season, but may stop early.

The information that is meant to help farmers to adequately prepare so as to maximize crop production, said the weatherman.

In its seasonal weather update the department indicates that; “Enhanced rainfall is expected over most agricultural areas of the country. It is also expected that the rainfall will be well distributed, making it favourable for agricultural activities in most of the areas.”

According to the update, arid and semi-arid areas of northern Kenya will receive above normal rainfall.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.