Ravaging effects of climate change

If there has ever been any doubt of the ravaging effects of climate change, the past week and current season have all conspired to provide some insights.

The week began with some record-breaking temperatures on which prompted the Meteorological Services Department to issue a heat-wave warning.

For example, on January 8, Harare recorded 33 degrees Celsius whereas last year it recorded 24 on the same date. Bulawayo recorded 36 degrees on the same date this year and 25 degrees last year.

In neighbouring South Africa, some lives were lost last weekend as that country’s citizens sought the cool of lakes, pools and beaches as the heat wave swept across the region.

Elsewhere, Madagascar has been hit by a tropical cyclone; roads are reportedly melting in Australia, where bats have also been said to have fallen dead from the skies because of the excessive heat.

On the other hand, in America reptiles have been dying from record low temperatures. The temperatures have been so low that even the Sahara Desert received its first snow fall in 40 years.

Back home, the rainy season has been patchy.

The Meteorological Services Department says the rainy season has so far performed badly in terms of rainfall distribution, thereby leaving crops in some parts of the country wilting.

This is despite the fact that the bulk of the country is still within normal rainfall category as predicted by the department in September 2017.

The department has since revised the forecast for the January to March (JFM) sub-season to normal having originally predicted normal to above-normal rains.

The revelations come on the back of a sweltering dry spell which caused panic among farmers across the country.

“While most areas show normal rainfall to date, the season has performed badly in terms of the rainfall distribution as some stations recorded normal rainfall in a space of few days,” the meteorological department told The Sunday Mail Society.

“For example, Beitbridge is reporting above normal rainfall which was received in one day.”

The Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), which is the main rain-bearing system for Zimbabwe, is not yet active.

As such, the prospects of abundant rains for the remainder of the season are now very slim.

“It is highly unlikely that we will have above normal rainfall unless there is a cyclone which supports movement of moisture into Zimbabwe as well as physical systems that can support southward migration of the ITCZ,” the department said.

“The ITCZ, which is the main rain-bearing system for Zimbabwe, is usually most active during December, January and February (DJF), however, the ITCZ has not been very active to date.”

Asked if the existing conditions will lead to drought, MSD said the chances of a drought are technically low.

“Meteorologically, normal rainfall is expected for the last half of the season, hence a meteorological drought is highly unlikely,” said the department.

“However, because the distribution of the rainfall has been poor for the first half of the season, crops could have been affected differently in different areas and the Ministry of Agriculture through extension officers would provide the best answer for this question in terms of an agricultural drought.”

Farmers expressed relief after the rains fell last week. However, they remain unconvinced that the worst is over.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union director, Mr Paul Zakariya, said the situation was severely bad before the rains, adding that the country now needs consistent rains.

“The situation has been bad but we may have to brace ourselves for a prolonged dry spell,” he said.

“Although the meteorological department has predicted that we will have rains this week, the situation does not look good in the long term.

“Even if you look at other weather services such as Accuweather, they are all pointing towards an unsatisfactory season.”

Accuweather is a renowned international weather services provider that avails data for governments and private organisations across the world.

According to Accuweather, Zimbabwe may start receiving consistent rains by the beginning of February.

The Meteorological Services Department has advised people to rely more on local forecasts as they are more informed on local data than international services.

President of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Association, Mr Wonder Chabikwa, is hoping the situation will turn around soon.

“We need the rains now, and to cover for the loss we need them until March to make sure that we have a good harvest,” he said.

“We have been in contact with the Met Department and they have told us that there was a cyclone which they had missed. It is this cyclone which has caused dry conditions in the country.”

According to Meteorological Services Department, Cyclone Ava, which started in Madagascar, has been causing dry air to affect Zimbabwe.

“The presence of a tropical Cyclone Ava to the north of Madagascar has been causing dry air to affect Zimbabwe and much of the Southern African region.

“These conditions have not supported the development of rain-bearing clouds over the country and pushed the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone well to the north of Zambia.

“Accordingly, it was hot and dry in most areas after the rains that were received during Christmas and during the first week of January.

“On the other hand, most tropical cyclones form between December and March, hence the development of tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean is still a possibility.

“Depending on their position and trajectory, these can bring significant rainfall or dry conditions over Zimbabwe.”

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