12 September 2017

Namibia: The Rainy Season Dawns but El Niño May Spoil the Party Again

Windhoek — For the fifth year in a row Namibian farmers have their eyes glued on weather predictions in anticipation of the rainy season, while disturbing reports have started circulating about the chances of an El Niño event forming later this year which could once again result in below average rainfall.

There is a 50-60% chance of an El Niño in late 2017, according to an update from the World Meteorological Organisation. The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a naturally occurring phenomenon involving fluctuating ocean temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, coupled with changes in the atmosphere. It has a major influence on weather patterns in many parts of the world and has a warming impact on global air temperatures.

It was responsible for three consecutive droughts in Namibia since 2013.

According to the Department of Meteorological Services in the Ministry of Works and Transport, the current ENSO conditions in the Pacific Ocean are neutral which make it difficult to make a forecast for the next rainy season. The Department of Hydrological Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry also says accurate weather forecasts are getting more difficult due to the changing climate. Between October and December this year normal to above normal rain is forecast, but for the south it is normal to under normal.

For November to January 2018 the forecast is normal to under normal and for the south under normal to normal. The forecast for the main rainy season is normal to under normal but the north-east can expect above normal rainfall between December this year and February 2018. This forecast, however, can change in the course of the season and producers should look regularly at updated forecasts, especially on short term for the planning of their activities.

Many of the climate models surveyed indicate that the subsequent development of an El Niño during the second half of 2017 is more likely than the continuation of neutral conditions.

"Memories are still fresh of the powerful 2015-2016 El Niño which was associated with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world and which, combined with long-term climate change, led to an increase in global temperatures to new record highs in both 2015 and 2016," says Maxx Dilley, director of the Climate Prediction and Adaptation Division of the World Meteorological Organisation.

It seems likely that the El Niño phenomenon, associated with drier conditions in southern Africa, is going to make another appearance in 2017, according to forecasts from the American Climate Prediction Centre. Its predictions show the odds for El Niño conditions are increasing towards the second half of 2017, with a 50% to 55% chance of the phenomenon occurring before December.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology also updated its ENSO outlook status to El Niño Watch, saying the likelihood of El Niño occurring in 2017 is increasing.

Drought conditions associated with El Niño weather patterns are likely to reoccur later this year, the South African government is warning.

The previous El Nino, which faded last May, brought widespread drought to southern Africa, hitting crop production and fuelling inflation across the region while leaving millions in need of food aid.

South Africa's weather service and global forecasters have predicted that El Niño will form again in the southern hemisphere between July and September.

If El Niño does return this month, it would be the first time it re-forms so quickly since the mid-1960s. Such warnings must be taken seriously and measures need to be taken to ensure that citizens in the countries that may be affected are cushioned. Failure to act would lead to dire consequences as seen with the 2015-2016 El Niño which resulted in more than 700,000 Namibians directly depending on drought aid food.

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