Why Kenya is experiencing hot weather

Wednesday February 21 2024
HN 090124 Global Warming

Kenya is projected to experience higher temperatures until onset of the rains. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


A five-day weather forecast issued by the Kenya Meteorological Department shows that most parts of the country are experiencing dry spells characterised by searing temperatures.

In the highlands east of the Rift Valley, which include counties such as Nairobi, Embu, Meru, Kiambu and Murang’a, the outlook says temperatures could soar to 38 degrees Celsius while for those in Northwestern, which covers Samburu and Turkana counties could be in for an even hotter weather with the maximum temperature projected at 39 degrees celsius.

Temperatures are expected to be warmer than average over the whole country during the forecast period. However, some parts of the country in the South Rift Valley, the Lake Victoria Basin and the Highlands East and West of the Rift Valley are likely to receive light to moderate rainfall.

Read: Study: Kenya's arid regions expanding

The World Meteorological Organisation says January was the hottest month on record a trend seen for much of 2023 which was recorded as the hottest year in history.

An upcoming outlook from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) anticipates specific weather conditions for the period spanning March to May. It expects higher heat stress across various regions. Eastern Tanzania, eastern Kenya, southern Somalia, and significant portions of South Sudan are projected to experience elevated levels of heat stress during this timeframe.


With Kenya coming out of a heavy rains period last year, and the ethereal flutter of white butterflies, which led to speculation of imminent weather shifts, it is easy to think of the current weather condition as unexceptionally unusual.

But is it?

Dr Cromwell Lukorito, a climate scientist at the University of Nairobi and as a vice chairperson on impact adaptation and vulnerability at the International Plant Protection Convention working group 2, says that this is expected at this time of the year.

Is this hot spell more intense or longer than usual for this time of year?

"First, let me be very quick not to condemn the intensity because we have just come from the el Nino climate phenomenon, which brought with it some enhanced rainfall that extended into January and the early days of February. But when we come to the global scale, we find that temperature-wise, every decade that passes is becoming progressively warmer. If you look at the data from the pre-industrial era to date, and taking a block of 10 years, we find that for every 10 years that are presenting themselves, temperatures are increasingly higher."

Read: Rising temperatures threaten beef farming in sub-Saharan Africa

And there are various reasons, perhaps?

Yes, there are global patterns, and we also have some local contributions from the remnant of the moisture that is still heavy in our atmosphere following the extended rain period. All over the country, there is still a lot of wetness.

What the wetness does is that it enhances evaporation bringing water vapour, a lot of it, into the atmospheric environment. Coupled with the sun heating, we create an enhanced natural greenhouse effect which is a warming element. If we have a local influx of moisture in the atmosphere, then the sensation of temperature will be higher.

And that's why you feel much hotter around the coastal area in Mombasa, Kisumu, where we have large water bodies and Turkana, not because the sun is much hotter, but because we have a lot of water vapour in the atmosphere, which will absorb and store a lot of heat.

Is this more about climate change or climate variability?

Well, what we are seeing here is on a larger scale, climate change. But we have a variability mode embedded within the change. And this is where most of the extreme events are masked—they are in the variability mode. On one hand, climate variability is natural fluctuations and short-term changes in the earth's climate system. On the other, it's climate change which refers to long-term shifts in average climate conditions, primarily driven by human activities.

Read: July to be hottest month on record as UN warns of 'global boiling'

And the focus now, unfortunately, is around a change, which is a general pattern. However, the issues of variability within the change are getting missed out.

Climate change and variability have been taken to mean the same thing, but they are different in terms of the time span of the shifts away from the long-term average conditions.

With this kind of weather are there any concerns or potential impacts on agriculture, water resources, or human health?

We should be worried because the change in intensity might bring about some disruption in the normal order. And therefore, agriculture will be adversely impacted. With the soaring temperatures, there is going to be an impact on water availability which will affect agricultural activities.

For how long do we anticipate this weather to last?

Well, the temperatures are expected to continue rising and will only be ameliorated by the onset of the long rains. Until then, the globe not just Kenya, will continue experiencing high temperatures.