I think the discussion of weather is considered important "small" talk in the US – you know what you talk about when you don’t know what else to say or when you first meet someone. I think, instead, it should be called “large” or “all the time” talk because it is such a frequent topic of conversation. And (not to get up on a soap box or anything…), I think people on radio and TV go overboard – they are NEVER happy with the weather we have. It’s too hot; can’t wait for winter. It’s too cold; can’t wait for summer! And so on and so on.
So, it’s not surprising someone asked me to write about the weather here. It is also understandable because I live in the tropics and people want to know what that’s like and how I can stand it. So, here are my observations about weather – mostly in Garoua Boulai with some notes about other places I have been this year.
The tropics run between the Tropic of Cancer (23° N latitude) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23° S latitude). These are imaginary lines between which the sun’s rays are most direct, and often hottest. Garoua Boulai is at almost 6° N latitude; definitely in the tropics. (It is, by the way, at 14° E longitude, so I am on the other side of the Prime Meridian from the US which is in the western hemisphere.) Still, it is not that hot here which has a lot to do with the elevation. GB is 996 meters (or 3,270 ft.) above sea level.
Here are some other cities for comparison:
Pittsburgh 40 N 80 W 900 ft. (not in the tropics!)
Bangui 04 N 18 E 1,216 ft. (often hot and humid)
Baboua 05 N 14 E 2,339 ft.
N’gaoundéré 07 N 13 E 3,976 ft.
Higher elevation can moderate tropical temperatures, so can being close to a river and other factors. Baboua and Garoua Boulai are moderate and pleasant. N’gaoundéré, on the other hand, although higher, is drier and hotter.
So, next, there are two seasons: rainy and dry. In the rainy season it rains. In the dry season it doesn’t. (What a surprise!) Of course, there is more to it than that, but basically, there’s no sense checking the Weather Channel or an internet site. I checked today just for fun. It says it will rain every day this week! (And, so far it has.)
Here are some details. The rainy season runs from late March/April through late October. While it rains most days, there is often sun as well. Sometimes there are even rain and sun at the same time, but that’s not too common. When it rains, it often rains very hard – torrential, tropical rains. This produces almost instant puddles and lots of mud. It often rains hard for an hour or so, then tapers off and stops. On the other hand, sometimes it rains all night or all morning. It is no wonder that some roads are built with gutters to provide a place for the rain water to go.
Here in Garoua Boulai, we also have overcast days that are gray. The temperature on these days is often in the mid-60s. I commented on it to one person who said, “Well, it is June…” When the sun comes out, the temperature has been in the mid to upper-70s. Very pleasant, as a matter of fact. At night, I sleep with the windows open and a blanket. Yes, a blanket in the tropics! With so many overcast days, sometimes I wonder if I am back in Pittsburgh.
Many times rain comes with storms that include lightning and thunder. This is one of the areas in the world where the most lightning strikes. I found a map online (not very clear) – I live in the dark area – dense with lightning! You can search for more information online.
Many more mosquitos are around during the rainy season since they lay their eggs in puddles and standing water. That means there are more of them to spread malaria and other diseases. Having a mosquito net is important (although few people here have them), especially for children who are more likely to die from malaria. This house has screens, but I have been using a mosquito net to be on the safe side. So far, no malaria! Yeah.
Cloud formations are beautiful during this season. Here are a few pictures that can’t capture the depth and breath, but can give you an idea.
During the dry season, travel is easier because there is less mud on the roads. The temperatures get hotter as well; I’d say they go into the high 80s and low 90s in Baboua. It is hotter in N’gaoundéré. The sky is very blue then. The days get hot, but it cools off at night most times in these areas. Pittsburgh summers can be just as hot and definitely more humid.
Plants do grow in the dry season; it is one of the reasons manioc (cassava) is a popular staple since it grows year-round. In fact some plants flower in the dry season. Also, ripe mangos begin to appear in the market just before the rains starts. On the other hand, most crops are grown in the rainy season.
People here only talk a little about the weather. They may ask how one is supporting the cold. (It goes down into the 60s after all!) Or comment on the length or strength of the rain. It is not a topic like in the US, though.