By James Ratemo and Naseemah Mohamed
The dreaded El Nino phenomenon, which ravaged the country in 1997 and 1998, will visit again soon. Global meteorological signals indicate the weather condition that lasted for six months could hit in full force, accompanied with its trademark torrents.
The prediction follows the periodic warming of water in the Pacific Ocean that is likely to affect weather around the world in a similar pattern, as in 1997.
Kenya and East Africa fall right on the path expected to soak the floods from the deluge.
El Nino could hit in the last three months of this year and last into the first two of next.
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This means floods, mudslides, crop failure and other aquatic chaos could be in the offing as global weather patterns turn chaotic.
"The Pacific had been in what is called in meteorological jargon a ‘neutral state’, but forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say the sea surface temperature climbed to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) above normal along a narrow band in the eastern equatorial Pacific in June," a report by Associated Press states.
In addition, Noaa’s Climate Prediction Centre said temperatures in other tropical regions are also above normal, with warmer than usual readings as high as 975 feet (200m) below the ocean surface.
A Meteorological Service official confirmed Kenya is on high alert following the warning from the US Government scientists that the sensors in the Indian Ocean have registered ‘worrying’ changes in ocean temperatures. The US forecasters said they expect this El Nino to continue strengthening over the next few months and to last through the winter of 2009-2010.
Assistant Director incharge of Media and Weather Services Ayub Shaka said if the rise in temperatures continues, the El Nino phenomenon would recur, but it is still too early to say the magnitude expected.
"We are still monitoring the situation and in three months’ time, we will be able to say with clarity what to expect. Not all El-Nino signals come with negative effects. For now there is no cause for alarm," said Mr Shaka, echoing Noaa’s sentiments. However, Noaa’s meteorologists expect to have a clearer picture in September or October, but early signs suggest it could become a moderate-to-strong episode.
Shaka said all stakeholders have been alerted and are watching data closely and continuously from sensors for adequate planning.
"All countries have data analysis centres with Kenya serving Central and Eastern Floods and mud slides feared as dreaded weather phenomenon expected to replicate severe effects last seen over ten years ago when it struck worldwide Africa except South Africa," said Shaka.
He said El Nino comes with different effects and depends on the extent to which the Pacific warms up.
"In East Africa, El Nino comes with slightly above normal rainfall, but depending on ocean conditions, the aftermath differs from region to region," he explained.
In general, El Nino conditions are associated with increased rainfall across the east-central and eastern Pacific and with drier than normal conditions over
northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, the El Nino floods from October 1997 to February 1998 that hit eastern Africa cost Kenya Sh70 billion, affecting about 160 million people globally.
It was the worst flooding recorded in East Africa since 1961 with rainfall 60 to 100 times higher than the seasonal average. Infrastructure was destroyed, crops were ruined, and health haz- ards ensued. Apart from the Sh70 billion destroyed in infrastructure, scientists reported the floods increased the prevalence of mosquitoes and malaria in all of East Africa, especially in the Rift Valley. By December 1997, Rift Valley Fever had killed 478 people in Kenya and southern Somalia. Transmitted by mosquitoes, the fever also killed about 80 per cent of livestock in Northern Kenya.
During and after El Nino, cholera outbreaks had also been observed in areas surrounding the Great Lakes and the Rift Valley region and had become an epidemic in Somalia, Djibouti, Mozambique and Tanzania.
A summer El Nino can lead to wetter-than-normal conditions in the intermountain regions of the United States and over central Chile. In an El Nino year there tend to be more Eastern Pacific hurricanes and fewer Atlantic hurricanes, scientists say.
"Advanced climate science allows us to alert industries, governments and emergency managers about the weather conditions El Nino may bring so these can be factored into decisionmaking and ultimately protect life, property and the
economy," Noaa Administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a statement.
A recent study by researchers at Georgia Tech University suggests there may actually be two forms of El Nino, depending on whether the warming is stronger in the eastern or central Pacific.
While the current warming seems to be strongest in the East, the more traditional form, government forecasters did not categorise it.