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It’s official: The seasons have shifted

MBONGENI MGUNI
Gaborone Dam 'died' in 2015 and resurrected earlier this year
This week, Meteorological Services Department director, Thabang Botshoma, confirmed what many have long suspected: the seasons, when they begin and end, have shifted. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports

You’ve always had that feeling.  Maybe you’ve even argued with others about it. Summer and winter just don’t seem to start and end around the times they used to.  Even within the seasons, the weather is different from what you grew up accustomed to.

Summer appears to last longer than normal and is hotter than usual. Winter deepens later than usual, ends quicker and is generally mild. Autumn and Spring, which many believe don’t even exist in this part of the world, are fleeting if they are even detected.

Yesterday marked the official beginning of Spring – September 1 – but with maximum temperatures in Gaborone, Francistown and Maun averaging 30 degrees celsius, it could have just been a typical mid-summer’s day.

Thabang Botshoma, the director of the Meteorological Services Department, says times and seasons, have in fact changed. Climate change, that sinister change in weather over the centuries due to pollution of the atmosphere, is to blame for longer droughts, changes in rainfall patterns, frequent heatwaves and outbreaks of crop diseases. Local meteorologists, Botshoma included, expect temperatures in the country to go up by up to eight degrees celsius in the coming years, making the horror of last year’s record-breaking 44 degrees celsius look like a cool breeze.

“I suspect we may not even need pans and stoves to fry our eggs, we will just put them in the sun,” Botshoma says. “We do 50 to 100 year projections on climate change and we are seeing that there will be temperature increases and changes in rainfall.

“We are geographically disadvantaged because we are surrounded by large water bodies.  The oceans have more (heat) memory than land and take a long time to release heat back.”

Botshoma says the impact of climate change on Botswana has changed the traditional timing of seasons, meaning agricultural planning and interventions will also need to adapt.

“It’s quite obvious to everyone that the seasons have changed,” he says.

“Before, rains would start by early October, but now the norm is mid-November if we are lucky. Most of the time, it’s late November.

“As for winter, April and May are warm and you start feeling cold in June with July becoming the coldest month. “Before, July used to be a month of warming up with a little rain, going towards August.”

The change of seasons was evident in the past rain season, when farmers blighted by the drought gave up on planting, only to see heavy rains from the beginning of May.

The onset of the rain season, according to the methodology applied by Met Services, is said to take place when at least 25 millimetres falls in 10 days, with another 20 millimetres in the following 14 days.

In March, after six heatwaves and an extremely dry rain season, the heavens opened and the failed Gaborone and Bokaa dams suddenly rose to 20% and 48% respectively, providing desperately needed relief to the Greater Gaborone region.

“I’m hoping we are all seeing a certain pattern here,” Botshoma says. “Our rains started late

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and winter started late.

“There’s climate change here. It is affecting us and we are seeing it on the ground, in the shift of seasons and heatwaves. “Climate change is giving us a lot of challenges such as extreme weather events, which are taking place anytime. “Look at last season. On average it was a drought year and yet in March, we had floods in some parts of the country. A drought year, with floods?”

Ramotswa and surrounding villages, as well as Francistown were hard hit by surprising floods in March, leaving some families homeless and disaster authorities taken by surprise.

The handful of farmers who bravely planted despite the forecast of extreme drought, added ‘floods’ to a season in which they also experienced heatwaves.

The change of seasons is hitting farmers the hardest, as they struggle to adapt to the late arrival of rainfall. The change has implications on exactly when to plant, the timing of government’s seasonal interventions under ISPAAD and the dangers of crops germinating towards the colder months and thus suffering frostbite.

The tricky timing is even worse this season as the forecast shows that good rains will initially fall in late November and December, followed by a dry spell in eastern areas around January and February, before more strong rains in the latter part of the season next year.

Depending on who you ask, the onset of this year’s rainy season could be anytime from November 12 to 16 or later that month, or sometime in December.

“As a farmer, what I would like to get is more predictability around the onset of rains,” says director of Agriculture Research, Pharoah Mosupi.

“The critical period for our crops is when they flower and fill the grains, which is 60 days after they first appear.

“As a farmer, I would be worried about planting around December because those moderate rains in January and February would affect my crop.”

Another farmer adds: “Planting later would put you at risk of frostbite in April and May”.

The Met Services Department says farmers should keep their eyes on the weekly forecasts closer to the period.

For Botshoma, the key to overcoming the change in seasons and climate change’s other adverse effects, will be teamwork.  The Met Services Department is working closely with scientists at the University of Botswana as well as various government departments and private sector players to strategise around the challenges.

The long awaited climate change policy, under which all the various interventions, including funding, will become statutory, is due before the November Parliament.

“The draft is final and it is now undergoing the approval process through to cabinet,” Botshoma says.

“We are targeting the November Parliament for final approval.

“We have started working on the strategy itself and the implementation plan, which will inform everyone on what to do and when and also inform government on what activities should be done by whom and when.”

In the interim, everyone needs to research the ‘new normal’ and educate themselves on how the skies above have changed.



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