The climatic conditions linked to the drought in the Horn in 2011 have persisted, and some early warning officials say the aid community should brace themselves for a possible re-run of last year's food crisis.
However, in their forecast, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says they expect the impact of the La Niña to wane over March to May 2012, which is the major rainfall period for pastoral and agricultural areas of northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and most of Somalia, accounting for 50 - 60 percent of annual rainfall.
“That is the official line, but the latest modeling suggests that the conditions seem quite similar to 2011,” said an early warning official. “The message out there is to be prepared to respond before it is too late.”
La Niña occurs when the surface of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean - the world’s largest body of water - cools, and has a climatic impact in other regions of the world.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), recent analysis has also identified a relationship between sea surface temperature and rainfall in the western Pacific, and rainfall in East Africa.
“The western Pacific is currently exhibiting a sea surface temperature and rainfall pattern which is similar to patterns experienced during the drought years of 1984, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011. This analysis suggests that if these conditions persist, eastern Kenya, southern Somalia, and southeastern Ethiopia may experience dry conditions," FEWS Net said in its latest report.
But the current La Niña is “relatively weaker” than the one recorded in 2011, said Rupa Kumar Kolli, chief of the World Climate Applications and Services Division at WMO.
He noted that the WMO forecast was a global outlook, and various local factors would come into play when looking at the event’s impact regionally. “For instance conditions [temperature and rainfall patterns] in the Indian Ocean would be a factor that would influence rainfall patterns in the Horn.”
The Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum, which monitors such local conditions, is meeting from 27 to 29 February in Rwanda and will provide greater forecast clarity, said both Kolli and FEWS NET.
* This article was amended on 13 and 14 February