Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Early Short Rains?

A recent posting here discussed a multi-day August snowfall event which resulted in ~5cm of accumulation on the Northern Ice Field. The next month or so was relatively dry, as typically the case at this time of year, with only about 14cm of ablation due to relatively high albedo following the mid-August snowfall event.

At the Northern Ice Field AWS, the next snowfall event appears to have occurred on 20 September, the day our team arrived in Tanzania. More snowfall was recorded on the 23rd, when we waited - in the rain - for our final permits at park headquarters in Marangu. Ascending the mountain we encountered light precipitation on a few days. However, while setting up camp in the crater on the 29th, a snow squall brought another 3-4cm of accumulation to the glacier.

The next snowfall occurred during the night of October 1st, apparently associated with tremendous convection visible to the East and accompanied by lightning and thunder, the most we have ever seen from the summit. By morning, camp was blanketed by a uniform 6cm of new snow, with more variable accumulation on the glacier. Rather fortuitously, the AWS had been reset into the ice the previous day; disturbance of the glacier surface is unavoidable during this process. Perfect timing for a snowfall event!

Telemetry from the AWS indicates continuing accumulation since we departed on the 4th, with snowfall on the 5th and a multiday event from ~11-15 October. With net accumulation of ~5cm to mid-October, little additional ablation is likely in the next few months - especially if the Short Rains have indeed begun.

Finally, anecdotal reports from around the mountain support the idea of an early Short Rain season. For example, a note from 17 October indicated "lots of rain on Kilimanjaro" which made climbing very difficult for some clients (Ngorogoro Camp and Lodge). Also from the 17th, several reports of rain "every day" in Arusha. In the week prior, perhaps coinciding with the multiday event on Kilimanjaro, a storm over Kibwezi, Kenya (just north of Kilimanjaro) "was so intense that it prevented small aircraft from going to the coast."

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