Before you plant, please listen to the weatherman

Principal Meteorologist James Muhindi says the current rains will last up to end of January next year.

Principal Meteorologist James Muhindi. The Kenya Meteorological Department has recently received  a lot of flak after the delay of the El Niño rains, which it had predicted will start early this month. PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI 

BY NATION CORRESPONDENT

IN SUMMARY

  • The Kenya Meteorological Department has recently received  a lot of flak after the delay of the El Niño rains, which it had predicted will start early this month.
  • Heavy rains have already started in areas like Embu, Coast, Nyanza and Moyale, where it has been raining for almost the last one month. The rains are still spreading and are expected to hit all parts of the country before end of October. It is a matter of time.
  • Always listen to the weatherman, regardless of what critics say. Prepare well. If the rains have not started in your area, they are coming.

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A good number of farmers rely on rainmakers or elders on weather forecast, some of who had dismissed your El Niño alerts. Are  rainmakers still relevant today?

We link with them through County Directors of Meteorological Services, but we often disagree with today’s rain-makers. They observe things like behaviours of trees and insects, but they cannot explain why the weather is the way it is. Wind moves from a place of high pressure to that of low pressure, and converge at a certain point for the rains to fall.

But most rain-makers think it will rain anywhere there are winds, which is wrong. In the past, there used to be rain-makers with whom we often agreed. But most of them have exited the world.

What do you tell farmers who believe it may not rain enough?

Heavy rains have already started in areas like Embu, Coast, Nyanza and Moyale, where it has been raining for almost the last one month. The rains are still spreading and are expected to hit all parts of the country before end of October. It is a matter of time.

Some farmers, for instance in Nakuru, have complained that this year’s long rains were inadequate yet you had predicted otherwise, thus, they ended up planting wrong seed varieties? Are you to blame?

No, not at all. We had already predicted that only Western region would experience enough rains in the March-September season while other areas would have depressed rains. We had communicated this through the media and regional meteorological offices.

How accurate are your weather forecasts?

If our forecasts were not accurate, then we would never give them. But sometimes we do not necessarily get it right. Even patients die after being put under the best and most eligible medication.

How do you ensure your predictions reach farmers across the country?

We link with the agriculture ministry which should always advise farmers using our predictions.

Do farmers seek forecasts from you, privately, as groups or individuals?

Yes, in fact they are always welcome. We have a business support desk where all questions are answered at no fee. However, for some services that need data or documents, one pays some little money. Most serious farmers, who know the need for weather forecast in their planning, seek information from our offices.

I particularly remember one fruit farmer of Asian origin who always thanked me after each season, having relied on the Metrological Department for forecast. Unfortunately he died recently.

How much rain do we expect in this period and where?

Most areas are expected to receive double the amount that has been experienced in ‘normal’ seasons. For example, Lodwar and Wajir, which normally receive between 0-100mm will now get about 200mm. Eastern will receive between 200-400mm.

What preparations should farmers put in place?

By now, most farmers should have already prepared their lands. In areas such as Kitui and Machakos, farmers are looking forward to a bumper harvest considering that these are normally dry areas. Let every farmer take advantage of these rains and maximise cultivation and planting. Most dry areas recorded high harvest even during the 1997-1998 El Niño rains. This is still anticipated in all the areas where the rains will be experienced.

Any crops to plant this season?

First, I want to encourage farmers to plant trees because this will be the way to regulate global warming and climate change. But it is advisable to also plant crops that require heavy rains especially in early stages like bananas. Also, plant crops that take three-four months to mature as this is the period that El Niño is expected to last.

Final word on weather forecast?

Always listen to the weatherman, regardless of what critics say. Prepare well. If the rains have not started in your area, they are coming. Do not panic, the Meteorological Department is 100 per cent sure that the rains will be there in the next three months.

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