Climate in Kenya

Climate & Agro-Climatic Zones in Kenya

Climate & Agro-Climatic Zones in Kenya
Great Rift Valley Viewpoint at Limuru. Photo Courtesy of Adventure Blog

The Lay of the Land

About 80% of Kenya’s terrestrial land is listed as arid to semi-arid, where life is essentially a continual search of water and the little vegetation to be found here. The rainfall here ranging from 150 to 750 mm annually. That is to also say, the rainfall here is erratic and poorly distributed, spatially and temporally, making agricultural production in the ASALs a cosmic challenge. The temperatures are always high across the ASAL, incessantly above 30 Celcius, which consequently affects moisture availability and dampers agricultural production potential.  So that, the high potential areas covering 20% of the country carry about 75–80% of the national population.  This has caused extensive pressure on land use for agriculture. It is upon this premise that Kenya must be understood and one that has inspired Kenya’s designation as the “land of variety.”  To better understand Kenya, one may look at it this way: It straddles the equator, the land rising from the coast to altitudes of 10,000 feet or more before dropping down into Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana. In between these variations of altitudes are seminal rolling farmlands, rolling expanses of plantation and natural forests, dry bush, scrublands, deserts and palm fringed tracts of amazing beaches.  The Northern Region of Kenya, the big 80%, previously a marginalized region, now provides some of the great driving experiences in Kenya, and not least along the 504 km A1 Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale highway linking Kenya to Ethiopia.  A lovely smooth road takes trippers across unfamiliar horizons, great scenery, and new cultures. 

Apart from the fact that the gradient of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya is quite steep, the floor of the valley in the middle region (in Nakuru County) is much higher than parts further north and south. Just as the low height of the other areas have a hot and dry type climate, so the greater altitude around Nakuru County also contributes towards making it wetter and cooler. This variant is of importance since it is the favourable climate which makes cultivation possible. Climatically, the higher area of the Rift Valley receives six times as much rain as Lodwar (northerly, in Turkana) and three times as much as Magadi (southerly, in Kajiado). Furthermore, the climate in Nakuru County generally matches up with the atypical equatorial climates of the highlands, where most of the rain is concentrated into the months of April to August, forming the ‘Long Rains’. The second maximum of rainfall, which is common in other higher lying areas of Kenya is not so distinctive here. There is, however, a marked increase in the rains around November, which correspond to the ‘Short Rains’. Concomitantly, there is a significantly drier period in January and February . The temperatures in this region vary very little as with many highland areas of Kenya, averaging between 22 – 26 Celcius all the year. Put differently, Kenya’s landscape rises from the Indian Ocean in the south-east to the edge of the East African Plateau and the Great Rift Valley in the western half. The country straddles the Equator.

About Climate and Weather in Kenya

Generally, the weather pattern in Kenya follows a two maxima rainfall, short rains and long rains, and in addition there can be considerable variation in the length of the rainy season from year to year, and the dates and times of onset or ending should be treated with some degree of reserve.  Also important to note is that rains tends to occur at different times of day in different regions of Kenya.​​​

Western Region​

In the low lying plains north and south of Kisumu, it is hot and humid with annual rainfall about 1,000 mm, whereas in the hills of Kakamega and Kisumu, nights are cool, the afternoon temperatures are not unpleasantly high, and the annual rainfall may be over 1,750 mm.  It is for the most parts fine and sunny in the morning which is the best time for travelling; showers and thunderstorms start from near the lake shores and the hills in the afternoon but usually finish by midnight. The wet and dry seasons are not well marked, but April and May are the wettest months and January the driest.​​​​ The mean annual maximum temperature ranges from 25 to 35 Degrees Celsius and is greatly influenced by the altitude and the nearness to Lake Victoria and the Lake’s catchment basin.  

Rift Valley Region​

In the County of Turkana in the north, the climate is hot and dry with the average temperature exceeding 29 C and the average rainfall only 150 mm.  In other regions much lower in the Rift Valley temperatures are quite pleasant throughout the year, and excepting in Kajiado and Narok Counties, the average rainfall exceeds 850 mm reaching as high 1,750 mm in Kericho County.  In Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu Counties the important rain season is April to September, with August the wettest month, January is the driest month in all the counties.  April is the wettest month.  In general, the mornings are clear and sunny, and showers and thunderstorms develop in the afternoons and evenings, clearing soon after midnight.  Heavy hailstorms occur in Kericho County and in Trans Nzoia Count near Kitale. The central part of Kericho County, where tea is grown, receives the highest rainfall of about 2125 mm while the lower parts of Soin and regions of Kipkelion receive the least amount of rainfall of 1400 mm. ​

Central and Nairobi Region​

There are two rainy seasons, March to May (the long rains) and October to November (the short rains).  Afternoon showers may develop, but much rains also falls during the night and early morning. During the rainy seasons the best times to travel are between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.  The warmer dry season is between December and March, when afternoon temperatures may reach as high as 29 Degrees C and night temperatures sometimes drop down below 10 Degrees Celsius. Between June and August is cloudy and cool, with little rain.​

Eastern Region​

The north-west part of this region is very dry, but heavy rainfall may occur near Mount Kenya.  The rain seasons are April to May, and October to December, and except in Marsabit and Isiolo Counties, where April is the wettest month, the heaviest rain falls generally occur in November.  Rainfall normally falls in the afternoons in the form of showers and thunderstorms, but on the eastern side of Mount Kenya rainfall often persists right through the night.  Average temperatures are generally around 23 Degrees Celsius. The hottest months are between September and October, and January and February. The climate in eastern region of Kenya falls under two agro-climatic zones; arid and semi-arid.

North Eastern Region​

This is a very hot and dry region, with the rainfall in most parts averaging less than 250 mm a year.  April and November are the wettest months.  The average maximum temperature in the hot season (November to April) may reach 35 C. The minimum temperature throughout the year is 22 C. The areas around the slopes of the Hurri Hills, the lower slopes of Mount Marsabit and the slopes of Mount Kulal, in Marsabit County, are relatively cooler and have higher rainfall. ​

Coast Region​

At the coast rain occurs throughout the year, most frequently in the mornings, with the main rainy season between April and June, and October to November.  During the rainy season continuous rain may fall several hours and sometimes last throughout the day.  The afternoon temperatures can reach 32 C during January to March, but in the coolest months, July to August, only reaches 27 C. 

Climate & Agro-Climatic Zones in Kenya
Climate & Agro-Climatic Zones in Kenya

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