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Cyclone to hit Kenya? Oh no, fake news!

By Hillary Orinde and Ramadhan Sigomba | December 5th 2019

Residents stand on rooftops in a flooded area of Buzi, central Mozambique, on March 20, 2019, when cyclone Idai hit the region. Kenya Meteorological Department has dismissed reports that a cyclone will hit Kenya. [File, AFP]

The claim that a cyclone will from tomorrow fiercely batter Kenya is patently far-fetched.

The Kenya Meteorological Department has dismissed the alert as sensational and grounded on falsehood unknown to them.

The startling alert claimed that a massive cyclone accompanied by heavy rainfall was on its way from the Indian Ocean making landfall on Friday, Dec 6.

But what is a cyclone?

According to the US National Ocean Service, a ‘cyclone is a generic term used by meteorologists to describe a rotating, organised system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has closed, low-level circulation’. 

When we contacted the Kenyan state agency responsible for issuing alerts for cyclones, it told us they were oblivious of such a threat.

"There is nothing of such a sort...That cannot happen in Kenya. When it happens, it only hits a few kilometres inland" the Director of Kenya Meteorological Department, Bernard Chanzu told us.

In one of the false weather warnings that were widely recirculated on social networking platforms; Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisii were said to be on the cyclone's path and asked residents to brace for sweeping destruction.

"Caution advised: A potentially massive cyclone with heavy rains from the Indian ocean to sweep through the regions shown. We are likely to experience serious effects in Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisii and environs. A rare phenomenon in our region," read the post.

Mr Chanzu notes that Nairobi and Kisii are too far from the Indian Ocean to be affected by a cyclone, "The reports caused unnecessary panic and we have received calls confirming the information".

It is not the first time Kenya Met was dismissing claims Kenya could be hit by a cyclone.

In March 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai – a Category 2 storm – made landfall in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi and killed close to 1,000 people. Kenya met advised that cyclones do not come close to the Equator.

The closest a tropical storm has come to hitting Kenya was in 2004 when Cyclone Agni hit the Somali coast from the Indian Ocean.

Who started the false claims?

We sought to find where the false claims originated from and traced them to an online user named Samuel Kairu –  a self-proclaimed weather forecaster.

He has been feeding his followers with false weather warnings updates, often being an alarmist in the warnings.

Owing to the number of times his Facebook posts were recirculated, his message spread like bushfire. They are probably shared by innocent Kenyans whose only sin is being mindful of the safety of fellow citizens.

In one of the posts, he says, "Now I am afraid to be the bearer of the bad news. Tropical storm 6 will make landfall in Somalia at the northern tip on Friday 3pm December 6. The northeast trade winds will pick all this moisture and bring it all way to Kenya and dump copious amount of rains as far as Samburu and Laikipia in the Kenyan heartland."

A screenshot of the Facebook post saying the cyclone will hit Somalia and parts Kenya on December 06, 2019. [Standard Digital]

But even the inaccurate warning had a catch – Kairu was cashing in on the floods misery.

He charges the public Sh2000 per year for weather updates whose sources are only known to him.

"Subscribe to telescopic weather PayBill number 940750 account weather Sh2000 annually," he periodically urges his followers.

The Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) denied that Samuel Kairu was their staff, labelling him as an ‘opportunistic’ who was taking advantage of the current weather situation.

"These are people who are taking advantage of the adverse effects of the current heavy rains being experienced across the country to prey on innocent, vulnerable and unsuspecting members of the public," the director of the Meteorological Department Stella Aura said.

She cautioned Kenyans against such quacks of Kairu's ilk saying the agency issues forecasts daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally and on a need-to basis. 

She added that all the weather and/or climate information issued by the department is presented on the official departmental letterhead, duly signed by the director, or county directors of meteorological services in the case of county-specific weather and climatic forecasts.

"The public is advised to retrieve authentic weather updates from the KMD website (www.meteo.go.ke), twitter handle (@Meteo Kenya), on the Facebook page (Kenya Meteorological Department), Instagram (MeteoKenya) or via email to [email protected] or [email protected]," she said.

Let loose

Samuel Kairu and his likes could, however, walk away with a slap on the wrist as there are no specific laws against quack meteorologists.

It was not until this year in March that a Bill proposed that they are jailed for three years or fined Sh100,000 if found guilty.

"No person shall practise as a meteorologist and technologist unless he is the holder of a practising certificate and a licence to practise that are in force," the proposed Meteorological Bill, 2019 reads.

You can read the draft bill here.

The law which plans to morph the Kenya Meteorological department into a world-class weather authority also seeks to absolve it from liability for damages arising from forecasts.

It seeks to rename the agency currently domiciled in the Ministry of Environment to the Kenya National Meteorological Authority.

If enacted, the law will establish the Kenya School of Meteorology as the national training institution for the provision of diploma, certificate and professional course in meteorology and related sciences in Kenya.

Once again, Kairu's weather forecast was fake news!

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