| April and May are the months of 'the long rains', i.e. the main annual rainy
season in Kenya and Tanzania. This is the low season when the safari industry
leans back, drawing a deep breath after the hectic high season just ended. It's
when lodges and camps close for maintenance, and their staff on leave travels
to hometowns and families. Hopefully, there will also be rain enough. Just enough.
The weather, mainly meaning the rains, isn't fully predictable. Some safari
veterans claim that in the olden days you could set your watch by the coming of
the long rains. You can't do that anymore. Well, you can, of course, but you probably
year earlier, in 2006, January and February were as dry as dust. The short rains
of November had never come, and by January it was some nine months since the last
good rains. In Tanzania, some rare signs of famine were seen in the hospitals,
and food prices were skyrocketing. In Kenya, food relief was sent to the northern
parts of the country, which are generally drier and much more vulnerable to droughts
than southern Kenya and Tanzania.
| Long rains in April and May |
The rule of thumb
is that the long rains should begin in late March or early April. This year, they
began fairly well on schedule. But last year, in 2007, they began in December,
and just went on and on. January and February, which are usually quite dry, were
soaking wet that year. Four-wheel drive jeeps got stuck and had to be abandoned
in the bush. The lodges in the Lobo area of northern Serengeti
were cut off from the rest of the park at times because of flooded roads and river
crossings. And the Tarangire River was higher than I've ever seen it before, flooding
the bridge and thus making the whole western half of the Tarangire
National Park inaccessible.
Safari guide Henrik Hult
on the impact of rains
Looking even further back, the El Niño
season 1997/1998 washed roads away, and made Lake Manyara
in northern Tanzania rise so much that a huge forested area was flooded and all
the trees killed. The dead trunks can still be seen out there in the park.
The migration in SerengetiMasai Mara
Not only humans, but also
the wildlife, are affected by the rains. And this affects you and me, when we
travel there to enjoy the wildlife. The migration
of the vast herds of wildebeest and zebras in the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem
is triggered by rain. When the long rains were exceptionally late some years ago,
the herds stayed and stayed in southern Serengeti, and when they finally left,
most of them stopped short of Masai
Mara in the north, which is where they are normally heading. Safari-goers
that had cleverly planned their tours to coincide with the migration in the Mara
didn't get to see what they had been hoping for that year.
Not a good
time for safaris
Most of us have to plan our tours to Africa well in
advance, and cannot wait until last minute to decide whether to go or not, depending
on the weather. We have to rely on coarse statistics that tells us how conditions
usually are during this or that time of year. And they tell us that April and
May are wet enough not to be a very good time for safaris. This is not really
because of the animals, because they are out there, but because of ourselves;
we don't want to spend our expensive safaris soaking, stuck in mud or trying to
spot animals through foggy car windows. Not when we can get much better conditions
and sunshine if travelling a month or two later.
A brief rainy season
in November, called 'the short rains', is not wet enough to stop me from going
into the bush. Most of the rain comes at night, and it's rarely much enough to
cause problems. The rest of the year should, statistically, be considered dry
season, offering good conditions for safaris.
The above goes for safaris
in Kenya and northern Tanzania (the area where for example Serengeti, Ngorongoro
and Kilimanjaro are situated). The seasonal patterns
in southern Tanzania, where fewer safari-goers go, is slightly different. June
to October is a dry season good for safaris, and the rest of the year is a rainy
season that you may want to avoid. January and February are usually drier, though,
and should be fine for a safari.
The lush and flowering seasons
The good thing about the rains is that they are welcome, much needed by the
local farmers and pastoralists, the hydroelectric power plants, and people in
general who rely on surface water or groundwater for drinking. The flora and the
fauna also need the water. Wet seasons are lush and flowering seasons in the bush.
The dry savannas turn green and fresh. Deciduous trees that dropped their leaves
during the dry season to conserve water quickly dress in new foliage. Wild flowers
and butterflies are seen everywhere. It's a beautiful season in the bush.
Wet season landscape in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.
Dry season landscape.