Almost everyone who owns a smartphone and has a vested interest in the data collection at the project has a weather app installed. It is highly unlikely that several different weather apps have the ability to control the Kalahari weather, but they tend to have the power to cancel meteorological events such as rain, thunderstorms and snow at will….yup, my weather app predicted snow several time last winter (which was ironically one of the mildest we’ve had) and then cancelled it the day before. It’s doing something similar with the rain this summer. It begins with a prediction of about a 50% chance of rain 10 days in advance and as you get closer to the predicted date, the % likelihood decreases until it is 0 and ends up a sad, hot and sunny day just like any other!
We are currently in the middle of one of the worst droughts the project has seen. My first year at the project, (coincidentally another drought year) was severe and we lost more than half of the population. This year it appears to be a lot worse. Not only have we had less rain and higher temperatures, but the groups were unable to recover after 2012 and therefore had fewer individuals in each group before the drought started to claim them! One of my friends started his PhD in 2012 and I remember him being upset that his animals were dying. Sure, it was sad to watch it happen, but now that I am in the same position and my sample size is dwindling before my eyes, I can vouch for how extremely heart wrenching that is. Especially when you stand aside and watch your data point die and then pick its limp body up and stick it in the freezer. The joys of working with a wild population, eh?!
We have had a couple of brief showers this season. But have received a total of 21 mm of rain while our neighbouring farms have had about 70 already! Most rain predicted days are characterized with excessive sand storms and really strong winds! NEVER leave your windows open during a sand storm or else everything you own will be covered in sand. And however hard you try, your clothes will never be sand free again! Three years later, I still find sand in clothes that haven’t been back to the Kalahari after my volunteer year!
We do have excellent thunderstorms where it looks like the clouds are having their own private party! It is of course, slightly terrifying when attempting to track your meerkat group in the evening. Aerial in hand, outstretched to the skies, with not very many taller structures around, hoping to get a signal from the radio collar at the group, it’s basically an open invitation to get struck by lightning!
We have several days when the skies threaten us with dark, gloomy clouds (which make excellent sunsets, no doubt), but there is very rarely any rain. However great it is to photograph the pre-rain skies, when it does rain in the Kalahari, it pours! We are yet to have a massive shower, but there’s rain predicted in March, hopefully it floods!
In my next post, I will talk about how actually depressing the heat can get and some of our (mostly unsuccessful) coping mechanisms!