Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Situational Awareness: Early Warning Systems. Strong early warning systems helped to predict deadly Kenya floods


Strong early warning systems helped to predict deadly Kenya floods


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The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is teaming up with ReliefWeb to explain the science behind its projections of acute food insecurity and share resources related to the multi-faceted inputs that go into FEWS NET analyses.

Recent deadly floods in Kenya were forecast months ahead of time, according to scientists with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), who explained that abnormally heavy and potentially dangerous rains are expected to continue through the end of the year.

FEWS NET uses sophisticated computer models to forecast climate extremes to help warn governments and aid organizations of possible food emergencies. These extreme, yet often predictable, events can threaten lives, destroy homes, and ravage communities.

In an October alert, FEWS NET warned of above-average rainfall across the Horn of Africa as a result of climate drivers including the ongoing strong El Niño and positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) conditions.

While heavy rainfall is expected to help many parts of the region overcome the effects of a recent multi-year drought, FEWS NET also warned that damaging floods would likely occur in certain areas.

In early November, those concerning forecasts became a reality.

“Everything was on track, especially related to the climate drivers. They kept getting stronger and stronger as we had anticipated,” FEWS NET Regional Scientist for East Africa Gideon Galu said about the Kenya floods.

According to Galu, the main tropical rainfall system was slightly delayed as it moved southward through Ethiopia and Somalia in early October, causing concern among Kenyans that heavy rains would not materialize as expected.

However, by November 14, the Kenya Red Cross confirmed that 46 people across at least 19 counties had died as a result of flooding that began earlier in the month.

As El Niño continues into early 2024, Galu explained that Kenyans should be prepared for more heavy rains.

“It's still early in the season, and we're likely to see more rains coming through,” Galu noted. “We expect that the adverse impacts will be higher than what we've seen so far.”

Worst-affected areas in north-eastern coastal and central Kenya have already received two-to-three times the normal amount of rainfall for this time of year. In regions hit hardest by recent flooding, the Kenya Red Cross estimates that 58,000 people have been displaced and widespread property and livestock losses are being assessed.

Although above-average rainfall is expected to benefit agricultural productivity and water resources, Galu explained that it would take more than one or two seasons of heavy rains to fully recover from recent record-breaking consecutive droughts.

“The new norm is extreme events, especially longer severe droughts and short recovery periods,” Galu said.

To help Kenyans prepare for heavy rains in the coming weeks and months, FEWS NET scientists are working with the Kenya Meteorological Department to combine data from a variety of ground- and satellite-based observational networks and provide daily updates to forecasts.

“More observations mean better monitoring and effective forecasting,” Galu remarked. “We are lucky in Kenya, there is increasing information exchanged. Every week, the Kenya Met Department provides advisories on areas where they’re likely to see heavy rains and the period that it is likely to happen in.”

A new tool produced by FEWS NET science partners with the University of California, Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Center, provides daily-updated snippets that bring together satellite data and information from 15-day forecasts to identify areas of concern.

“In terms of information for early warning or forecasting, when we have strong climate drivers like El Niño and positive IOD, we don't have a problem at all,” Galu said. “We have a lot of resources and we are working with the right people from the Kenya Met Department on the county level.”

Hannah Button is communications lead, FEWS NET Learning and Data Hub

To access decades of data related to acute food insecurity, climate, markets and trade, livelihoods, and more, sign up for a FEWS NET Data Explorer account and subscribe to receive FEWS NET reports directly in your inbox and follow FEWS NET on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates.

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