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Tanzania - Climate

Tanzania has a tropical type of climate and is divided into four main climatic zones notably: the hot humid coastal plain; the semi-arid zone of the central plateau; the high-moist lake regions; and the temperate highland areas. In the highlands, temperatures range between 10c and 20c during cold and hot seasons respectively. The rest of the country has temperatures usually not falling lower than 20c. The hottest period spreads between November and February (25c - 31c) whereas the coldest period is often between May and August (15c - 20c). The climate of the islands of Zanzibar is tropical and humid.

Water is the critical factor in the development of Tanzania, the distribution and seasonal fluctuations in rainfall determining agricultural practices. In most parts of the country there is either not enough rain or it comes at unpredictable times - miseasonable floods alternate with droughts.

The climate is basically determined by the country's position just south of the equator and by the airstreams coming from the Indian Ocean and southern Asia. Except for rainfall there is little seasonal variation. The rainy season varies - in general rains may begin as early as October or November in the southern part of the country and end in March. In the north, however, the heavy rain, begin in March and end in May or June. There is also a good deal of local variation, and a few places, especially in the northern highlands, may sometimes benefit from a short rainy period in November or December.

Two major elements, rainfall and temperature, produce what is essentially a tropical equatorial climate. Temperatures are modified, however, by the altitude, resulting in a somewhat cooler climate in the higher regions, where mean daily maximums range between 22C and 30C (72F and 90F). Altitude also play a large role in determining rainfall patterns, with the higher elevations receiving more precipitation. Generally the total amount of rain-fall is not very great. Only about half of the country receives more than 750 millimeters (thirty inches) annually. There are, however, great variations, from more than 2,540 millimeters (100 inches) annually just northwest of Lake Nyasa to less than 508 millimeters (twenty inches) in parts of the hot and dry Central Plateau and the Masai Steppe. On the coast, including the area of the Rufiji Basin, which extends inland for about 100 kilometers (more than sixty miles), a warm and humid climate prevails. The offshore islands have a more tropical climate, with higher average temperatures and more precipitation than the coast.

Many of Tanzania's rivers are shallow or marshy with only seasonal flows. Some, particularly those draining into the Indian Ocean, offer potential for irrigation and hydroelectric power. The use of others is limited by marked variation in flow. The Rufiji River and its tributaries, draining nearly a quarter of the mainland's territory, offer perhaps the greatest potential: some of it has already been realized. For example, the Kilornbero River, draining a once marshy valley is now under sufficient control so that some of the area is used for cultivation of sugar. and the Great Ruaha River is the site of a hydroelectric station. The Pangani River, which rises in the northeastern highlands, has three hydroelectric stations.

The lakes provide transportation, are a source of food and livelihood, and offer abundant water supplies for irrigation. The largest lake in Tanzania and in Africa is Lake Victoria. Lake Tanganyika, the world's second deepest lake, has a precipitous coastline and a few poor harbors. Lake Nyasa also has poor harbors. Lake Rukwa to the east of Lake Tanganyika is small and shallow and tends to be brackish. A series of small lakes in the northern part of the country all have salty water Lake Natron [as the name implies] is commercially exploited for salt and soda.

Patterns in Tanzania soil, climate (particularly rainfall), and the occurrence of the tsetse fly determined settlement patterns before European penetration: these patterns have not changed substantially. Population densities vary between regions and even between and within districts. It is not known whether the process of villagization altered patterns of density since 1967.

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Page last modified: 19-05-2015 20:18:07 ZULU