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Earlier-than-normal establishment of June-September seasonal rains over the northern sector

  • Seasonal Monitor
  • East Africa
  • July 31, 2021
Earlier-than-normal establishment of June-September seasonal rains over the northern sector

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The onset of the June to September main rainfall season in the northern sector of East Africa began earlier than normal. Rainfall generally ranged from above average to average in Sudan, much of western Ethiopia, and parts of South Sudan. However, localized deficits are present in southwestern and central Ethiopia, the Rift Valley of Kenya, southern and eastern South Sudan, the coastal strip of Kenya and Somalia, and much of Uganda.

    • Above-average rainfall since late April has resulted in excessive streamflow in the Blue and White Nile, Atbara, and Sobat-Pibor-Akobo river basins in western Ethiopia, eastern Sudan, and South Sudan and elevated flood risks. There have been reports of localized riverine floods resulting in the displacement of households and damage to croplands and rangelands.

    • In unimodal areas of Karamoja, Uganda, and Turkana, Kenya, where the rainfall season begins in March/April and ends in September, rainfall in June and early July ranged from below average to average. In Turkana, little to no rainfall accumulated from mid-May to early July, while in Karamoja, below-average rainfall in June gave way to a relative increase in rainfall in early July. 

    • The GEFS rainfall outlook through August 18, 2021, indicates the intensification of the June-September seasonal rains over the northern and western sectors of East Africa, resulting in an elevated risk of flooding in flood-prone areas of Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.


    The faster-than-normal northward progression of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in April through June resulted in an earlier-than-normal onset of 10-20 days of the June-September seasonal rains and the start of agricultural activities across much of Sudan, western and central Ethiopian highlands, and northern, western and central South Sudan. In the June-September rainy season-dependent areas in the northern sector, there are localized areas of delayed onset by more than 10 days primarily attributed to the poorly defined southern portion (arm) of the ITCZ. In the March-September dependent areas of eastern Uganda, western Kenya, delayed rainfall resulted in cumulative early season rainfall deficits of -25 to -100mm, in some of the worst-affected areas (Figure 1). However, most parts of the eastern Horn and Tanzania remained typically sunny and dry following the end of the March-May rains, apart from East Africa’s coastal strip, which continued experiencing below-average rainfall amounts.

    Overall, vegetation conditions have responded well to the ongoing seasonal rains, with much of Sudan and western Ethiopia recording greener-than-normal to near-normal vegetation greenness according to the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (Figure 2). Meanwhile, vegetation conditions in the rest of the northern sector range from near-normal to below-normal, with deficits particularly visible in parts of southeastern South Sudan. In the eastern Horn, mixed vegetation conditions range from above-normal in northern Somalia and areas of the Somali region of Ethiopia to drier-than-normal in localized areas of Turkana in northwestern Kenya and southern Somalia. Persistent cloudiness over extensive areas of eastern Horn and the northern sector of the region have continued to obscure satellite-derived assessment of field conditions for the past few weeks. However, field assessments by FEWS NET partner organizations suggest that the deterioration of rangeland conditions over parts of eastern Horn, particularly northern Kenya, southern and central Somalia, and southeastern and southern Ethiopia, has continued. Finally, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and much of Uganda have maintained near-normal to slightly below-normal vegetation conditions.

    Cropping conditions over the northern sector are presently in early vegetative stages and largely favorable conditions. In Sudan, the high price of fuel, agricultural inputs, and labor did delay planting in localized areas; however, crop development has been supported by average to above-average rainfall. In South Sudan, crop conditions are good; however, seasonal flooding in low-lying and riverine areas in parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile, has resulted in some household displacement and crop damage. In Ethiopia, crop conditions are generally favourable across meher and belg crops; however, conflict in areas outside of Tigray, including in Benishangul Gumuz, North Shewa, and Oromia zone of Amhara, Southern Special woreda of SNNPR, and some localized areas of Western Oromia, is also driving lower than normal engagement in kiremt agricultural activities.

    Maize and sorghum cropping conditions in the Rift Valley and western Kenya, and the Karamoja region of Uganda – which depend on March-September rainfall – and the coastal areas of southern Somalia – which depend on the June-September hagaa rainfall season – are largely favorable. However, in areas affected by poor cropping conditions between May and July, below-average production is likely. In the Rift Valley and western Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi, average production prospects are anticipated, and crops are in the maturity stages. Along East Africa’s coastal strip, maize conditions have continued to show improvements since June, supported by persistent light to moderate daily rains. However, the long-dry season and crop-water-stress recorded in May are likely to result in slightly below average yields in these coastal zones.

    The following is a country-by-country update on recent seasonal progress to date:

    • In Somalia, below-average rainfall during the April-June gu rainfall season is expected to result in a significantly below-average gu cereal crop harvest in July. However, regional production prospects vary. Available field information suggests crop production prospects are relatively higher in sorghum-producing areas of Bay region, for example, compared to areas along the Shabelle River and areas in the southern coastal strip. The June to September hagaa rains are expected to be inadequate to drive significant recessional cultivation in riverine areas or recover late gu cereal production in coastal areas. Due to the forecast of an atypically hotter-than-normal dry season from June to September, rangeland resources and livestock body conditions are expected to continue to deteriorate. However, much of northern Somalia and parts of central Somalia have remained greener-than-normal due to the recent seasonal rains.
    • In Ethiopia, the kiremt (June-September) rains started well and earlier than normal over the western and central highlands. The rains are expected to be fully established across all the kiremt-dependent cropping zones. However, there are concerns of increasing cumulative seasonal rainfall deficits and areas of significantly delayed onset (by at least a month) in southern and southwestern Ethiopia, similar to the recent belg cropping season. In July, the delayed belg harvest is expected to begin but be below-average, particularly in northeastern Amhara and southern SNNPR, due to delayed planting, conflict, and insufficient rainfall. Meher crop production is expected to be average, although below-average production is likely in conflict-affected areas. conditions are expected to be good. In Tigray, production is expected to be significantly below average.
    • In Kenya, cropping conditions in the long-cycle (March-September) maize-producing areas in the high-productive zones of the Rift Valley and western Kenya have remained favorable despite some dry spells in May. Maize production prospects for the harvest in November/December are expected to be mostly average and comparable to last year. In marginal crop-producing areas in Kenya’s eastern and southeastern lowlands, where the March to May rains were below average, the July harvest is expected to be below average. In the coastal cropping zones, which receive rainfall from June-September, the light to moderate daily rains since June have improved crop conditions.  Rainfall has performed poorly in Turkana county, with little to no rainfall accumulating from mid-May to early July, driving declines in rangeland resources and livestock body conditions.
    • In Sudan, the average to above-average rainfall is supporting rangeland resources, which are in good condition,  along with rainfed cropping conditions, which are in vegetative stages.  Above-average rains are forecast to continue through the end of the season, supporting crop development. However, there is an elevated flood risk in the states of South Darfur, West and South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Sinnar. Flooding in July resulted in some crop damage and household displacement.
    • In South Sudan, the start of the June-September main season rainfall season is generally favorable for cropping conditions in northern and western South Sudan, where cumulative rainfall through mid-July is above average to average. In southeastern South Sudan, slight to moderate rainfall deficits are observed due to a 10-20 days’ delay in rainfall onset. However, soil moisture in these areas is adequate due to normal first-season rains from March to May. Consequently, the below-average start of the season is currently not anticipated to affect crop production prospects significantly. There are currently seasonal flooding reports in low-lying and riverine areas in parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile, leading to some household displacement and approximately 5000 hectares of crop damage. Flooding in the Sudd Wetland and the Sobat-Pibor-Akobo river basin is of high concern in the coming months. The latest NASA/NOAA flood outlook scenarios indicate that the 2021 flood extent is likely to be comparable to 2020.
    • In Uganda, rainfall in June and July was below average, resulting in 50-100 mm rainfall deficits, particularly in Karamoja. Across most of the country, cropping and vegetation conditions are near-normal. In Karamoja, improved rainfall performance is unlikely to improve below-average harvest prospects. Across the rest of the country (bimodal areas), the early season agricultural production outlook is for a near-average harvest and likelihood for occasional flash-floods. Bimodal regions are expected to remain typically sunny and dry until October, which often marks the start of the short rains season. 
    • In Rwanda and Burundi, typical sunny and dry conditions continue to prevail across both countries. The ongoing season B harvest, which relies on the February-May rains, is assessed to be average. No significant seasonal rains are expected until the commencement of the short rains season in early October.
    • In Yemen, moderate to heavy seasonal rains have continued over the western and southern regions since the start of the rainy season. Agricultural and general vegetation conditions are sparse according to NDVI in the lowlands, as is typical, with mixed anomalies in highland areas. Occasional floods are likely to occur through September, with the forecast above-average rains through the rest of the season. Small-scale breeding of desert locusts is likely in the interior where good rains have fallen.     


    According to the two-week rainfall outlook for August 3 -18, 2021, there is an increased likelihood for moderate to heavy rainfall in western and central Yemen, Sudan, western and central Ethiopia, South Sudan, northern Uganda, and western Kenya is likely to experience intensification of their seasonal rains (Figure 3). The East African coastal strip is also likely to continue observing light to moderate rains into early August. The rest of the region is forecast to remain typically sunny and dry, but with warmer-than-normal land surface temperatures, particularly over the eastern Horn. This is expected to drive the deterioration in rangeland resources through August.

    Based on observed and forecast rainfall through August 16, there is an increased likelihood for rainfall deficits to strengthen over eastern DRC, Uganda, southern South Sudan, and across southern and parts of central Ethiopia (Figure 4). Despite anticipated deficits, rainfall totals in these climatologically wet areas are still expected to be largely adequate to support crop growth and rangeland pasture and water availability. Meanwhile, much of Sudan, Ethiopia, and northern South Sudan is likely to continue recording above-average rainfall. There are moderate to high flood risks across western, southern, and eastern South Sudan, including the Sudd Wetland areas; and a very high risk of flooding in Pibor and Upper Nile in South Sudan and the Sudanese states of South Darfur, West and South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Sinnar. According to NASA and NOAA seasonal experimental flood forecasts and NOAA VIIRS flooding extent, seasonal flooding will most likely be above average in the Blue Nile and White Nile river basins and comparable to 2020.


    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 2.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 3.

    Source: NOAA/CPC

    Figure 4

    Figure 4.

    Source: UC Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Center

    FEWS NET’s Seasonal Monitor reports are produced for Central America and the Caribbean, West Africa, East Africa, Central Asia, and Somalia every 10-to-30 days during the region’s respective rainy season(s). Seasonal Monitors report updates on weather events (e.g., rainfall patterns) and associated impacts on ground conditions (e.g., cropping conditions, pasture and water availability), as well as the short-term rainfall forecast. Find more remote sensing information here.

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