Why the rains beat Kenya harder this time

Families salvage their belongings after River Tana burst its banks and flooded the area and washed away farms in April 2018. PHOTO | ABDIMALIK ISMAIL

“Look at us, our situation is terrible. We feel neglected,” says 35-year-old mother of four Mary Kiraito, gesturing at the temporary camp in Ng’ambo, Baringo South, which has been her home for a month, along with her neighbours and 5,000 others who were displaced by floods after 10 villages in the area were submerged by water.

There is another camp at Sintaan, a few kilometres away, also hosting residents of Salabani, Leswa, Loropil, Longewan, Eldume, Ildepe-Osinya and Ilng’arua, who were also displaced from their homes.

“Look at us,” Mary says, with a throw of the hand again, “we don’t have mosquito nets. The place is crowded; we don’t have clean drinking water or even toilets… But we have nowhere else to go. We lost everything. It was swept away by the floods…” her voice trembles, trailing off as she is joined by Jane Kigeny, another resident, who is curious about what we are discussing.


“I fear for the children in this cold. We have nowhere to cook, let alone to lay our heads. It’s only a matter of time before we succumb to disease,” says Jane.

The area is flooded as far as the eye can see and roads have been rendered impassable by raging floods that have cut off affected villages and submerged even latrines. The residents relieve themselves in the nearby bushes.

Some women have given birth in the camps and their infants have not been vaccinated. Ng’ambo and Sintaan dispensaries were not spared by the pounding rains.

They were also submerged and medical supplies destroyed, so affected locals cannot access health services.

Schools too were not spared: Loropil, Sintaan, Leswa, Salabani, Ilng’arua and Ng’ambo have compounds full of water.

The worst-hit are Sintaan and Leswa primary schools, whose pupils have been forced to move to the neighbouring Longewan, wading through water to get to the school, which is crowded beyond capacity. Some are forced to take notes while standing in any and every available space.

The same scenario plays out in Garissa, a county dotted with makeshift camps housing displaced flood victims, where we find 55-year-old mother of 11, Mama Buley Siyow Mohamud, assessing the damage outside her collapsed house, with broken bits and pieces, furniture and household items strewn all over. Her latrine caved in during the initial flooding, then her house followed.

“My children and I spend our days and nights out in the cold. I’m worried that we might catch malaria,” she voices her immediate fears. Her camp mate at Hyuga Girls Primary School, Shara Mohamed, shows us her makeshift shelter made of twigs wrapped with pieces of cloth.

“We are in dire need of food and other non-food essentials,” she says.


The long rains (March-May) season was characterised by heavy storms that caused massive flooding in many parts of the country and landslides in some areas, with most meteorological stations recording above normal rainfall between March 1 and May 17.

It rained so hard that four stations — Makindu, Garissa, Narok and Laikipia Airbase — recorded more than twice (200 per cent) their long-term seasonal average, with a further 23 stations recording above normal rainfall that was more than 125 per cent of their long-term seasonal average.

Only seven stations — Mtwapa, Kericho, Moyale, Kisii, Kisumu, Malindi and Msabaha — recorded near-normal rainfall of between 75 per cent and 125 per cent of their long-term seasonal average, while no station in the country recorded below normal rainfall, i.e. less than 75 per cent of the long-term seasonal average.

The phenomenon was historic, as some stations recorded the highest rainfall on record, according to the end-of-season report by the meteorological department.

The rainfall recorded at Narok, for instance, was the highest ever recorded since 1950 for both long and short rains. The station recorded 706.6mm of rain, compared to 686.4mm recorded during the short rains in 1961 and 610.8mm recorded during the long rains in 1957. Narok was not the only place with record-breaking rainfall.


Other stations that recorded the highest amounts of rainfall in recent history are Eldoret-Kapsoya (highest for both long and short rains since 1972); Laikipia Airbase (highest for long rains and second highest for both seasons since 1957); Makindu (highest for long rains and sixth highest for both seasons since 1950); Garissa (second highest for long rains and fourth highest for both seasons since 1959); Kakamega (second highest for long rains and fourth highest for both seasons since 1958); Nakuru (second highest for both long and short rains since 1964) and Embu (second highest for both long and short rains since 1976).

The meteorological department also noted rainstorms (storms and heavy rainfall within 24 hours) in Siakago in Embu, Taita Taveta, Iten, Busia, Kitui, Marsabit, Garissa and Moi Airbase Eastleigh, which recorded rainfall of more than 90mm within 24 hours at the height of the rains.

But why did Kenya experience such astronomical rain that left death, injury and destruction in its wake?

Well, according to Assistant Director Meteorological Department Ayub Shaka, the wet and dry seasons are determined by the movement of the sun across the Equator, or what is called the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).

But this was not the reason for the rain this time round, neither was El Nino. The heavy downpour was caused by increased sea surface temperatures along the Kenyan coast, or warming of the western side of the ocean in what is referred to as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) or Indian Nino in meteorological terms.

And as warming was happening on the western side, cooling took place on the eastern side near the Indian subcontinent.

This climatic condition was described by Japanese scientists in the early 1990s, who explained that increased greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane caused the earth, including the ocean to warm up and in turn led to above-normal rainfall.

According to Mr Shaka, when the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone meets with Indian Nino, the result is heavy rainfall on the western side of the Indian Ocean, i.e. in Kenya.

This is because winds blow from areas of high atmospheric pressure (Indian subcontinent) towards areas of low atmospheric pressure (Kenya), leading to a lot of rain in the region.

If El Nino conditions (warming of the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean leading to heavy rainfall) coincide with the Indian Ocean Dipole, rainfall would be even heavier than what we have experienced this season.

“When the sun completes the south to north cycle across the Equator, the heavy rains will stop,” said Mr Shaka in an interview with Healthy Nation.

On the other hand, when there is cooling at the Kenyan coast (western part of the Indian Ocean), combined with differences in atmospheric pressure and sea surface temperatures, then the other extreme of drought becomes a reality.


In short, extreme weather has been caused by the warming oceans driven by global warming that has made previously set seasons rather unpredictable.

Some studies have shown that global temperatures have risen by about two degrees Celsius in the past 100 years, and without intervention (for example, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving the environment) temperatures are expected to rise in the next 15 years with more pronounced negative effects.

A study released by the University of Virginia in early May indicated that East Africans will experience heat stress later this century as temperatures hit new highs buoyed by greenhouse gases.

By 2030, at least 75,100 people will be at risk of river flooding in Kenya due to climate change, according to a report published by the World Health Organisation in conjunction with the World Meteorological Organisation.

The effects will continue to be felt by the most vulnerable.




Farmers in agricultural regions in western, central Rift, central and south-eastern Kenya reported good crop performance in places that were not affected by floods and landslides, due to the enhanced rainfall. Pastoral areas also experienced improved pasture and availability of water for livestock, despite the flooding.

Apart from filling up water resources that supply water for drinking, sanitation and industrial use, the heavy rainfall was also good for power-generating dams – the Seven Forks, Turkwell and Sondu Miriu – which filled to capacity, and this is expected to increase hydro-power generation and power supply in the country.

The rains were also conducive for tree-planting and countrywide reforestation was initiated by the Ministry of Environment in a bid to increase forest cover.


Makindu station registered 318% of its seasonal long-term mean, the highest seasonal rainfall:

1. Embu Meteorological Station – 1087 mm

2. Kakamega - 956.7 mm

3. Meru - 882.6 mm

4. Kericho - 823.1 mm

5. Dagoretti Corner - 788.4

6. Kisii - 774.1 mm

7. Thika - 743.3 mm

8. Wilson Airport - 735.7 mm

9.  Marsabit - 709.1 mm

10. Narok - 706.6 mm


Rainfall between 500 to 700 mm – 13 stations  (Mtwapa, Eldoret Airport, Kitale, Moi Airbase in Eastleigh, Nyeri, Lamu, Eldoret - Kapsoya, Makindu, Malindi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport)


Lowest amount of rainfall was recorded at Lodwar Meteorological Station (201.9 mm)

Rainfall by long-term mean

Above 200% - 4 stations (Makindu, Garissa, Narok and Laikipia Airbase)

More than 125% - 23 stations (Lodwar, Meru, Marsabit, Wajir, Embu, Eldoret - Kapsoya, Wilson Airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Voi, Nakuru, Machakos, Moi Airbase -Eastleigh, Thika, Eldoret Airport, Nyeri, Dagoretti Corner, Mandera, Kitale, Lamu, Nyahururu, Kakamega, and Mombasa)

Between 75% to 125% (near normal) – 7 stations (Mtwapa, Kericho, Moyale, Kisii, Kisumu, Malindi and Msabaha)

No meteorological station recorded below-normal rainfall (less than 75%)


Rainstorms (heavy rainfall in 24hrs)

1. Siakago, Embu – 182.6 mm (March 25)

2. Marsabit - 151.8 mm (April 13)

3. Taita Taveta – 138 mm (March 16)

4. Malindi - 128.1 mm (May 16)

5. Garissa - 125.3 mm (April 16)

Other rainstorms were recorded at Moi Airbase Eastleigh 103.5mm on April 23, Mombasa 98.7 mm on May 3, Iten 97.8 mm on March 14, Busia 94.9 mm on March 14, and Kitui 91.2 mm on March 25.



Source: Kenya Meteorological Department