Partly Cloudy With a Chance of Rain Posted on October 27th, 2009 by

The weather here is annoyingly unpredictable.  The mornings when you wake up to a clear blue sky always seem to be the ones that end in a shower, and the days that start off gloomy, end up cheerfully sunny.  Yesterday, I awoke to a clear sky.  By nine, it was dark and dreary.  It cleared up for lunch, but in the afternoon the sky clouded over again.

Having lived in Minnesota all my life, I’ve come to know its weather patterns.  I can look up in the sky and say, “Its going to rain soon,” or notice a change in the winds and realize, “Its going to be cold tomorrow.”  But here none of that applies.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have decided, is a cloud machine, or at least a cloud magnet.  Most days, the view of the summit is entirely blocked by thick gray clouds.  Only in the early mornings and evenings is it clear.  Now, I should mention that these are no ordinary clouds.  On a partially cloudy day, of which there are many, you can see the gigantic towering clouds that flock to the mountain.  These are the types of clouds which you might only see on a humid spring day when huge thunderclouds loom on the horizon that hark the coming of a storm.  Here they stand on their own as they drift up to the mountain and slowly merge together, blocking the setting sun.

On other days, the clouds cover the sky like waves on a frothy sea.  Though their deep blue bellies look full of rain, they never seem to let it out.  These clouds will loom ominously throughout the morning and suddenly dissipate in the afternoons, leaving behind little white puffs on a startlingly blue sky.  These large, rolling clouds are always accompanied  by strong winds that come sweeping up from the southeast. 

And being the cloud magnet it is, Mt. Kilimanjaro tends to create its own microclimate.  Because of the elevation, the slopes of the mountain are much cooler than the surrounding area.   I think Mweka has a very agreeable temperature, but some at the college disagree.  Its always funny when you see students walking around with woolen sweaters and winter fur-lined parkas.  And thanks to its cloud-attractive properties the mountain’s slopes are blocked, for the most part, from the harsh rays of an equatorial sun .  Having said that, do not doubt we lack warm sunshine.  We just have less of it than other areas of Tanzania.

As the short rains are just beginning, there is an increasing frequency of cloud cover.  The clouds though often don’t stick around for long.  You never know when to pack an umbrella, as when it clouds up and you think it’s going to rain, the sky always seems to clear up and you wish you brought the sunscreen instead. 

When it does rain, its because the clouds have descended on the mountain and consumed the slopes.  The mist at times is so thick you would think yourself in the cloud, which you most likely are.  As the clouds hug the mountain side, the temperature drops considerably and the rain beats down steadily.  The rain is a constant drumming, only changing pace as it sharply wanes off.  It can rain in the morning, or the evening, or the middle of the day.  You only know its going to rain when you find yourself in a clouds and you can feel the first raindrops falling on your head.

Perhaps after nine months I will know the weather patters a little better, but for now I will just have to put on my sunscreen and remember to bring the umbrella.


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