Go and plough, Radithupa urges doubting Thomases

Rain Clouds gathers over Gaborone Main Mall PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Rain Clouds gathers over Gaborone Main Mall PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

As the highly popular face of the weather bulletin, he has borne the ridicule of Batswana on social media and in public chatter whenever the forecast has not gone according to plan. He, however, often has the last laugh. Speaking to Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI, Radithupa Radithupa says farmers should forget the pain of drought and head to the fields

On social media, a search for his name springs up several memes or graphical jokes.  One is of a cat strutting proudly with the caption 'Radithupa around GC when the rains have fallen'. Another is of Radithupa in the Met Services studio with the caption 'Ke le boleletse; le nyatsa batho'.

The Department of Metrological Services chief metrologist has evolved into the lovable caricature of social media. His bold forecasts and the accuracy or lack thereof on key weather events such as imminent rains, floods and others have made him the man the public loves to hate and love.

Social media loves proving him wrong, but is gracious in defeat when he’s right.  The man himself is aware of his internet and social media celebrity status, but is unruffled by the attention and what he calls “artwork”. “I’ve seen some of them (the memes) and I get them sent to me by friends who say ‘bona hoo,’” he says with a slight smile.

“There’s a lot of artwork done about me and I’m wondering why there’s so much interest.

“Someone sent me all of them the other day.  Some of my friends are scared to share with me, but others do.”

This week, Radithupa put forward another forecast, perhaps the most important of the year.  The seasoned weatherman says the onset of the rainy season has begun and farmers countrywide should start ploughing, if they have not started already. In the past two years, local farmers have experienced two successive droughts, including the driest season in 35 years, with the South East and Southern districts hardest hit.

In late August, the Meteorological Services Department announced that the dreaded El Nino climate phenomenon that had been driving the droughts, had weakened and given way to La Nina, a phenomenon associated with normal to above normal rains, and even flooding.

The 2016-2017 rain forecast for most of the country therefore ranged between normal to above normal, a desperately welcome development after the devastation of the agricultural sector, food production and the rural economy.

The experience of the past seasons, the historic drying of Gaborone Dam and the bitterness of failed hopes, have left some cynical and eager to lampoon Radithupa. The weatherman is, however, unshaken.

“People may be sceptical or cautious coming out of the drought, but we are standing by our forecast that there will largely be normal rainfall throughout the country,” he says.

“People should go out and plough. Obviously the advice will come from the agricultural officers, but they (the officers) also base that on the forecast.

“Coming out of the drought, it’s not easy to recover and you can see that with the livestock. However, already around Gaborone, you can see the cattle have noticeably improved.”

Radithupa’s optimism is not based on gut-feel. As a meteorologist, he is basing his optimism on observable and referenced science as well as data.

According to the Met Services’ data, rains in the season began on October 19, with showers in the South East district. On that day, Mochudi received 25 millimetres and Ramotswa 14 millimetres.  The next day, Bokaa recorded a whopping 40 millimetres.

The South East district has a mean annual rainfall of 420 millimetres and the amounts recorded thus far suggest the initial forecast for generally improved rains is well on track.

As Radithupa explains, technically the onset of the rain season is said to occur once 20 millimetres of rain falls, followed by another 20 millimetres over the next three days.  That has already happened in the South East, the same area scorched by El Nino’s cruelty. “The onset of the rain season has occurred in most places, especially over the Central District, South East district and the North East,” he explains.

“The eastern half of the country has received significant amounts of rain, some may say even too much. The only area left out is Borolong, although we expect that area to receive soon as well.

“The other parts, which are Ngamiland, Chobe and down to Kgalagadi, are yet to see rains and the momentum has not started.

“For November and December, we expect the number of rainy days to increase, with fewer breaks.  We expect all areas to start receiving a little bit more.

“It’s good that the rains started in the South East because this was the hardest hit in the past and I think there’s a good recovery already visible.”

For most farmers, traditionally, ploughing activities begin after the first round of rains, which are known as ‘grass rains’, as they trigger the sprouting of previously dry land.  Many begin ploughing after that or wait for the third round of rains.

Most parts of the South East district have greened from the initial rains and activity is increasing on the fields.

Radithupa says the forecast unveiled in August is largely going accordingly.

“We had forecast a normal season and so far, it’s coming up like that. The distribution of course varies, but it’s going that way.

“There are areas lagging behind like Borolong and while the western parts are yet to receive significant amounts, this too is in line with our forecasts.

“The eastern half is fine and the western parts should also see more rain as we move further into November and December.”

Far some farmers staring into dry skies, the predictions of rain sound like the hopeful exhortations of the past two seasons. In both failed seasons, government provided its input support as usual and farmers being the eternal optimists, went out and ploughed, in vain.

Those who had solely planted maize, were the worst affected, while those who also had hardier crops such as various legumes and watermelons, were able to salvage a little, helped by the late rains that fell between March and April.

Radithupa has cautionary words for those farmers in the eastern half of the country who have not yet received rains and have already tasked their children with creating “artworks” for social media lampooning the weatherman.

“The nature of rainfall that we have in Southern Africa is convective rainfall and it can fall in one village, or even one field and not in the other. Ga se boloi. Thunderstorms can stretch for one or two kilometres, then dry up.”

By December, the Met Services Department will conduct a mid-season review, which will gauge how far on or off their forecasts were. For Radithupa, however, the early signs are encouraging that farmers will finally smile after two years of horror in the fields.

As for whether the social media parodying will end should his forecasts be proven right by that time, the weatherman is resigned.

“I have no control.”

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