Agro-climatic Zones

Climate & Climatic Zones in Kenya

Rift Valley Viewpoint at Limuru.  Photo Courtesy of Adventure Blog
Great Rift Valley Viewpoint at Limuru. Photo Courtesy of Adventure Blog

The Lay of the Land

Peneplained landscapes characterize a very large area of Kenya, and in general East Africa. Vast wide-open plains of flat country continue unbroken to distant horizons, and may account for the landscape of as much as half of Kenya. Most of the heavily populated areas are found away from these arid plains in Baringo, Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kitui, Laikipia, Marsabit, Samburu, Tana River, Wajir, Turkana and West Pokot, which are the large Counties of Kenya. Chalbi Desert, which sits in Marsabit County, is one of few examples of a true desert in Eastern Africa. The Chalbi is entirely without surface water, and has no rivers. Which is why, almost 70% of Kenya’s population live in the grouping of small counties in Central Kenya, in Kiambu, Nairobi, Nyeri, Meru, Embu, Kirinyaga, Muranga which culminate in Mount Kenya – Kenya’s highest, and in Western Kenya, in Bomet, Bungoma, Kericho, Kakamega, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Migori, Siaya culminating in Mount Elgon – Kenya’s 2nd Highest. These plateuas have been interrupted by smaller mountains whose creation is associated with Rift Valley.​ The Great Rift Valley System of Kenya and East Africa, with its steep inward-facing escarpment and relatively flat valley floor and lakes is so widely-written about as to warrant no introduction here.  Of course, the Rift Valley is such a dominant feature in Kenya that anyone who has ventured a little distance from their village must have encountered it. Correspondingly, the Great Rift Valley Systems of Lakes are recognized as one of Kenya’s 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The striking and extraordinary sights of the Rift Valley are prominent in Narok, Kajiado, Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo and Turkana.  Lastly, is the coastal landscape of Kenya.  Taita Taveta, Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi and Lamu fall under this listing, and all but Taita Taveta share Kenya’s 512 kms coastline belt.​

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 make 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.

The country north of the Equator – which splits the country into equal halves of north and south – presents a great similarly to the country south of it, although the features to the north are on a much grander scale.  North of the Equator is the fabled Northern Frontier District (NFD), south of it the famous Maasai and Kambalands. North of the NFD is the beautiful desert oddity of Lake Turkana.  South of Lake Turkana is the smaller Lake Logipi and the Chalbi Desert. South of the Maasai and Kambaland is the Coastal Region of Kenya, where along the Indian Ocean are fertile tracts of limited extent where rainfall is abundant and foliage flourishes.  The greater of the territory between the Maasai and Kamba territories and easterly into the Somali dominated region of Garissa, making up nearly a quarter of Kenya, is practically semi-arid.  North of the Equator, the land is classified more as arid. A vast area, almost half of Kenya, of diversified structure, with hills and numerous dried up water courses, regions of dunes and miles upon miles of a bushland.  Scattered through NFD are about 3,000 oasis and laghas (seasonal water pans) where the doum palm flourishes and the last hope for water.  In many places, wells have been dug and great caravans follow the lines of these oasis and wells.  So that the most healthy parts of Kenya are astride the Equator, around Mount Kenya, in the central region, and around Mau Complex, Mount Elgon and Lake Victoria in the west. Temperatures in Kenya vary considerably based on altitude; the central area being substantially cooler than the coast, with the coolest (highest altitude) regions at 15°Celcius compared with 29°C at the coast. The country lies within the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a narrow belt of very high rainfall that forms near the equator. The ITCZ brings rain southwards through Kenya from October to December (Short Rains), passing again northerly in March – May (Long Rains).

Topography and terrain map of Kenya

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. 

Climatic Map of Kenya

Climate Change in Kenya

Kenya’s somewhat long-standing upheaval with climate change comes at a time when droughts have become more frequent and dreadful, especially since 2000. The latest turmoil faced by the millions living in the forbidding semi-arid areas of the country utterly devastating man and livestock, prompting governmental and international agencies to send and distribute emergency relief, at the last to avert a full-blown humanitarian crises. There’s no quick way to fix the country’s adverse climate change patterns. But the responsible authorities can, at least, avoid making matters worse. The latest alarm follows the repeated forest fires around Mount Kenya and the Tsavo National Parks, whose frequency has locals worried of the impending woes. For the activists, the response appears more of a wait and see game, which could trigger even deadlier calamities and force very intrusive counter-measures. The gamble may fail. How is Kenya to respond to climate change? The Met Department has indicated that widespread warming has been observed in Kenya since 1960. A decline in precipitation has also been observed for the period between 1960 and 2003, although the data is limited. If that were not enough to go by, Kenya has experienced intense flooding every year since 2000, as well as an increase in extreme weather like the diminishing glaciers around Mount Kenya, leading to the drying up of river streams. “Such dire changes have already led to harvest losses and food shortages, as well as landslides, soil degradation and a loss of biodiversity. Pests for humans, plants and animals are also increasing. Fewer cold days and nights is contributing to the spread of malaria to new areas. The diminishing water sources and erratic rainfalls have also reduced the availability of water. These trends have negative impacts on child survival and development through rising childhood exposure to disease and reducing access to safe water for children and families” UNICEF.

Climate and Agro-climatic Zones in Kenya

Kenya’s Efforts to Mitigate Climate Change

Granted that almost eighty percent of Kenya is classified as arid or semi-arid, the effects of adverse climate change through increased temperatures, erratic rainfall and drought are a cause for national alarm. “People struggle to engage with climate change because they perceive it as distant: temporally, socially or geographically”. Lucky for Kenya, there have been significant changes, both by the Government and public sectors, to mitigate the effects of climate change. In April of 2010, the Government of Kenya unveiled the “National Climate Change Response Strategy“, a robust piece of legislature that is both a stop-gap measure to downturn root causes of climate and an incentive for innovative approaches to go-green. It is important to note that this is the first comprehensive national strategy developed and dedicated to address threats posed by climate change as well as to create awareness of merits that arise. Moreover, the National Climate Change Action Plan rolled out on March 27, 2013, addresses the options for a low-carbon climate resilient development pathway as Kenya adapts to climate impacts and mitigates growing emissions. In April of 2016, Kenya signed the Paris Agreement and has solemnly started the process of ‘domestic ratification’.

Equally impressive in Kenya’s efforts to mitigate climate change was the iron-fisted ban on plastics legalised on August 28th, 2017, in what many outsiders consider as the world’s most draconian plastic bag ban. Contrary to outsiders concerns, on the use of plastics attracting the world’s stiffest fines, the ban was welcomed and adopted by every nature-loving Kenyan with zeal and avidity. The effects were almost instantaneous, especially in Nairobi, where the eyesore waste plastic was filled to overflowing in the city dumpsites and rivers. “A year after Kenya announced the world’s toughest ban on plastic bags, and eight months after it was introduced, the authorities are claiming victory – so much so that other east African nations Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are considering following suit” – The Guardian. Post the June 2020 ban, and following a presidential directive, all plastic products were banned in Kenya’s National Parks, beaches, forests and conservation areas, which means visitors will no longer be able to carry plastic water bottles, cups, disposable plates, cutlery or straws into these protected areas. This extends to the guest-facing establishments within the jurisdiction covered by the ban. Another imperative anecdote in the Kenya’s fight against climate change is the rather ambitious but achievable millenium-goal of being powered entirely by ‘green energy’ by 2020.

At the moment about 70% of Kenya’s energy is derived from renewable energy – hydroelectric and geothermal – with a steadfast approach on increasing wind and solar energy. So far, the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project and the Garissa Solar Garden are almost operational, with substantial projects in geothermal, solar and wind power in development. All these efforts have placed Kenya as the fifth globally in an annual Bloomberg index measuring investments and opportunities in clean energy, according to the East African. Last but not least, water, of course, is all-important to the success of the Kenya’s effort to mitigate climate change. This implicitly means conserving and regenerating the forests that form the river headwaters. It’s not easy. Kenya has been often hailed as a class act in tree planting. Each year, through countless collaborations between government agencies, private sectors, non-government, community initiatives and volunteers, millions of trees are planted or replanted to replenish damaged forests. It’s easy to feel disheartened as the calamity of illegal logging appears to obliterate these efforts. But tree planting in Kenya is both a national outfit and the first response to the runaway climate disaster, and one that most Kenyans are passionate about, and always ready to go out time and time again to carry out. Perhaps this, and many other efforts, wil be a shining light. At the last, it has to be remembered that the climate crises cannot be achieved in isolation. It warrants a global approach and that indispensable level of global commitment.


Major Natural Landmarks in Kenya

Climate and Agro-climatic Zones in Kenya

Mountains

  • Kenya – 5,199 ms
  • Elgon – 4,321 ms
  • Longonot – 2,777 ms
  • Ndoto – 2,637 ms
  • Kula – 2,381 ms
  • Suswa – 2,557 ms
  • Marsabit – 1,702 ms

Hills

  • Chyulu – Makueni County
  • Taita – Taita Taveta County
  • Shimba – Kwale County
  • Nyambene – Meru County 
  • Tugen – Baringo County
  • Samia – Busia County
  • Loita – Kajiado County 
  • Mbooni – Makueni County
  • Cherangani – Trans Nzoia County
  • Iveti – Machakos County
  • Nandi – Nandi County
  • Homa – Homa Bay County
  • Gwassi Hills – Homa Bay County
  • Mua – Machakos County
  • Ngong – Kajiado County

Plateaus

  • Yatta – Ukambani
  • Merti – Isiolo
  • Kaisut – Marsabit
  • Uasin Gishu – Uasin Gishu
  • Lerochi – Samburu
  • Laikipia – Laikipia
  • Loriyu – Loriyu
  • Nyakach – Nyando
  • Lari – Kiambu

Plains

  • Coast – Coast
  • Bilesha – Garissa
  • Sardindida – Wajir
  • Athi-Kapiti – Machakos
  • Lokitipi -Turkana
  • Kano – Kisumu
  • Loita – Narok
  • Ngaso – Moyale
  • Kaputei – Kajiado
  • Awara – Mandera
  • Boghol – Wajir

Valleys

  • Kerio – Elgeyo Marakwet
  • Suguta – Samburu
  • Kedong – Narok
  • Lambwe – Homa Bay
  • Subukia – Nakuru

Rift Valley System in Kenya (Naivasha). Published by Folklore Ltd