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russell

Okavango - Wow, huge amounts of Water Already

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Looks like the Delta is going to have another bumper year, with water levels already over the peak flood of last year, really wouldn't want to be there on safari at the moment, or anytime before November.

 

Taken from the Little Vumbura newsletter:

 


"The rain has caused huge confusion with the water levels in the Delta. The water rose 300 mm in three days and absolutely swamped our roads and made the island almost inaccessible via our boat station near camp. The solution was simple though as we began boating to camp via our floodplain channel directly from the airstrip - three months earlier than we should have though. The water level is at present 10 mm lower than last year's annual inundation peak but two weeks ago was actually higher. Things are however returning to normal, but we fear if the remaining rain water does not begin to evaporate at a faster rate we are in for a substantial inundation this season."

 

http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/news/index.jsp

 

The only upside is the current flood levels are tracking much lower than last year, though I can see a real bumper year in the making. Not great for operators who are clearly already struggling with all these multiple discounts etc.

 

Link to the current flood data http://www.orc.ub.bw/

 

Quite an interesting comparison is to look at the flood images

 

Yesterday: http://lance-modis.eosdis.nasa.gov/imagery/subsets/?subset=Botswana_NW.2013049.terra.250m

 

In the top left, you see the dark patches on the Kavango river, where the floods are starting to push down.

 

High Waters during last June http://lance-modis.eosdis.nasa.gov/imagery/subsets/?subset=Botswana_NW.2012173.terra.250m

 

 

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I just got back from Botswana last week. They did have some very heavy rainfall in the middle of Jan which caused a lot of flooding. However, it's been very very dry since then. I was in the delta from 27 Jan to 12 Feb and had very little rain in 15 days of safari. We had 2 heavy showers and that was it, for the whole time. It had also been dry the week before I arrived (after the spell of heavy rainfall).

 

So after they had a huge amount of rain in a few days, it's been dry for weeks afterwards. Even when I was there, only a week or so after the flooding, there didn't seem to be an excessive amount of flood water. At kwara, we got to Tsum Tsum no problem- it was flooded out there but we had no problems driving around. I was also in Vumbura- I've never been before so had nothing to compare it to, but it didn't seem excessively wet to me and none of the guides/managers made any comment about high water. In fact, my guide was pointing out areas that would be under water at the peak of the flood, so it seemed like they had a way to go.

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I just got back from Botswana last week

 

I seem to have missed the trip report?...

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Spoke to a friend of mine and it's been raining pretty hard last few days. Kwandos Jan report says that the Angolan highlands have had a lot of rainfall this summer.

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It's funny though, I looked back through my emails prior to my trip and in early Dec, my TO (based in Maun) was saying that the water levels in the delta were looking to be very low this summer. She said camps that have not worried about water for years were getting nervous and they were hoping for some heavy rains (looks like they got them!). And in early Jan she said Sandibe weren't offering mokoros and were discouraging boat trips due to LOW water.

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So with all the increased water levels in the Delta how does that affect the location of the game? Are there camps that are better than others? Do the high water levels make for a better safari experience? What do heavy rains in Jan mean for March and April.

 

Glen

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Means the water levels will be high during their winter months - April thru probably August or even September. Some roads/areas will be out of access due to flooding. In my opinion, game will be a little more widespread due to the availability of water. Also inside the mopane veldt (thick forests) the pans in there will hold water for longer periods almost until the very end of the dry season (Sept/Oct).

 

You will still see plenty of game and still have a great safari. Go with the flow and enjoy what's out there!!!

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I just got back tonight. My game viewing experience at Little Mombo, Vumbura Plains and Chitabe was good to fantastic. At Little Kwara the grass was super high - Hobbs said it seemed to have grown a lot in the last two weeks of January while he was away - and there were roads that were flooded that we had to drive around. Tsum Tsum was flooded - we went to the beginning of it but I got the impression from him that it would be difficult to impossible to go all the way in due to the flooding - may have flooded more after StokeyGirl was there as I was there from February 13 - 17. Hari, I had little to no rain the last 7 days of my trip at Kwara and Lagoon, had one big storm when at Mombo in early February, and just a couple days of rain other than that. But I did hear several people say they were expecting a really big flood this year. I've never been to Botswana at all so I have nothing to compare it to, but I will say we did not as many animals at Kwara as I anticipated - from what I've heard it is usually more productive so that may have been a result of the high grass and flooding.

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Just goes to show how gameviewing can change from one week to the next. SG, who was there just before you had a super trip to Kwara. You were in the best possible hands at Kwara - if there were animals to be seen, Hobbs is definitely the man!

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Exactly, and he and his tracker did an unbelievable job of tracking a lion, it was so impressive. I shouldn't make it sound like we didn't see anything - in one day we saw a male lion and the three cheetah brothers twice (in morning and afternoon drives) and on another day we saw the coalition of four male intruder lions. We also saw general game - but it just wasn't the kind of experience I've heard many describe, and I know StokeyGirl saw more there just before me, so you're right, it can change quickly - but it's ok, I enjoyed what I saw and had a great time with Hobbs! And as I say, other camps were more productive for me this trip - that's why I'm glad I stayed for a while and went to several camps, since you just never know what's going to work out best!

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This is from Chris Roche of Wilderness:

 

Hi Matthew,


1) The super high water levels at Little Vum were temporary and were a result of enormous local rain.
2) These will, and are, subside/ing.
3) The annual inundation is caused by different rainfall altogether and this seems to be far lower than usual in the catchment of the Okavango/Kavango.
4) The majority of this high rainfall over summer seems to have fallen in the Zambezi catchment.

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Hilton Walker from Great Plains Conservation writes:

 

Matthew - our view on this is cautious to be honest. As usual at the start of every year there are pretty "solid" predictions that crop up only to be proven wrong later in the year. So for us we watch the flood graphs and work from there as we see the water coming in or not.

 

Have a look at this site www.orc.ub.bw - then click on flood data on left hand side, followed by water. choose Mohembo as the drop down to see the water levels and here you will see that this year is way lower than last year's flood.

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This sounds like what I've been hearing from my TO in Maun- the flood levels were actually lower than usual, so some exceptionally high rainfall over a few days has caused temporary localised flooding but that's probably all.

 

 

 

Hilton Walker from Great Plains Conservation writes:

 

As usual at the start of every year there are pretty "solid" predictions that crop up only to be proven wrong later in the year.

 

Haha- This sounds like the weather forecasters here in the UK- one hot Easter weekend and it's going to be the hottest summer on record! Fat chance.

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I have had the same impression as Chris Roche. Zambezi on some areas is highest water level since 1968 or so and though the peak has not yet reached VicFalls, the falls have shown some unusually high sprays for this time.

 

While optically one could measure localised rain floods and say they are higher than last years annual flood from Angolan highlands, the comparison is not strictly correct as the localised rain related flood will quickly disappear in evaporation and the Kalahari sand unless it is continuously fed- think flash floods. By the time the water from Mohembo reaches these concessions, the localised rain related flood could have all but evaporated!

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The flood levels may be lower, though all this localised rainfall keeps the water table very high, so any flood will spread further and have a larger impact.....

 

Yes, the two sources of water are different, though they combine around may/June, which negates the argument that the annual floods are not affected by localised rainfall. Believe me, have been affected by this on previous safaris.

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Would also take wit a pinch of salt what operators are reporting about not being worried about floods but so not accept the correlation between localised rainfall and increased flood impact.

 

Have seen a number examples of operators claiming areas are not really affected when the reverse is the case.

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Posted (edited)

Russell, I dont doubt higher water tables will add to the flood. I am just doubting that there will be higher water tables

 

-The floods in 2012 were the lowest in last 3-4 years

 

- The localized rain in 2011-2012 green season was not above normal-infact surprised with much drier Feb onwards

 

-The localized rains in 2012-2013 were much lower till the 1st-2nd week of Jan and from there on for few weeks there was a huge dump.

 

-The Angolan catchment has received much lower rainfall.

 

So overall I am sceptical of record floods on account of water tables.

 

This site gives a weekly update of rainfall, cumulative anomaly of rainfall ( The feb 21st publication shows anamoly all the way from Dec 2012 to Feb 18th 2013 and other such satellite estimates. I have just linked the last 3 publications. Of note is that apart from eastern Angola, most of Angola (including the catchment) has received far less than average/expected rainfall. And Northern Botswana is split - The area around the Delta on the 3rd link page 2 last figure will show on an average an anomaly towards lower rainfall , while areas around Chobe, Linyanti have received around 25mm-50mm excess.

 

http://www.fews.net/docs/Publications/afr_Feb07_2013.pdf

 

http://www.fews.net/docs/Publications/afr_Feb14_2013.pdf

 

http://www.fews.net/docs/Publications/afr_Feb21_2013.pdf

 

On the other hand the really excessive rainfall in the Zambezi catchment -infact in much of Zambia and Mozambique is very noticeable.

 

This does not mean I am saying you are off in your assessment. It remains to be seen how rainfall makes up in Okavango and Angolan catchment in the remaining rainy season. Just that so far the only thing that flash flood has shown is a huge dump of rain that was otherwise meant to be spread out over the rainy season. And the immediate prediction is for lower than normal rainfall with conditions already drying up. Unfortunately the ORC site does not open up for me so my assessment of flood levels at Mohembo are only based on these reports of rainfall in the catchment.

Edited by Anita

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Anita

 

I doubt it will be a record year, though the water levels will still be very high compared the years prior to 2008, which I use as a baseline, as gameviewing has seen a significant fall off since in most locations.

 

To me, another bumper year means place like Tsum Tsum out of action, the Selinda Spillway meeting up again.

 

Tsum Tsum is classic example, I would estimate that around 85% of the area that was driven on prior to 2008 is under water, most it for the full year. It will take a serious dry spell of low floods and rainfall for the water levels to drop.

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oki, if you are referencing this to the years prior to the wet cycle, then I agree. Any change in comparison to that will involve a lot of news regarding drying up of the spillway etc which we are still not close to- completely agree. I thought this was more in reference to the last 4 years.

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I thought the Spillway filling was at least partly due to seismic movements- no matter how many dry years they have, it's not going to reverse those movements.

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hey guys,

This has gotten me confused around planning my trip to Okavango around mid April. Even with the six country special the kind of money I am spending, I could do a 10 day trip to Serengeti/ Mara during the migration season and stay at top camps like Sayari in North serengeti, Mara plains etc.

 

I am not the expert on how rainfall in angola and local rainfall affects the game but would really appreciate any inputs.

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hey guys,

This has gotten me confused around planning my trip to Okavango around mid April. Even with the six country special the kind of money I am spending, I could do a 10 day trip to Serengeti/ Mara during the migration season and stay at top camps like Sayari in North serengeti, Mara plains etc.

 

I am not the expert on how rainfall in angola and local rainfall affects the game but would really appreciate any inputs.

 

Is this for April 2013 or April 2014? If it's April 2014 you won't be getting 6 countries rates as these haven't been announced yet and probably won't be until July or August. On the 6 countries rates I find it hard to believe the rates match Mara Plains/Sayari peak rates. This year's 6 countries was around $400 a night for the classic camps, around $500 for the premier camps (except Little Mombo which I believe was more).

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Ah, I've just seen your other post. I imagine having Little Mombo and Vumbura Plains in there is what's pushing up the cost.

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Ah, I've just seen your other post. I imagine having Little Mombo and Vumbura Plains in there is what's pushing up the cost.

Stokeygirl - these are for April 2013. I believe $500 pppn for premier camps was until march 20th. I have been told the rates for April are about 15% higher. So about $570pppn for premier camps and $460pppn for standard camps. Little mombo is more like $850pppn

 

so all in for 9 nights rates including internal flights end up being $14000 for 2 people. That's why I said I could do 9 - 10 nights in Serengi/mara. I was using $750pppn ($1500 a night for 2) as the benchmark rate for camps like Sayari and Mara plains

 

I have also been following the thread on the rainfall/ flood levels in the okavango. I have only a day to finalize the bookings due to availability. It is all happening so quickly. Now that the time to pull the trigger is here, I seem to be having second thoughts about Botswana. I cant believe it - but there have been so many threads recently about whether botswana is worth it or not that it is making me wonder. And then there is obviously the question around which camps would have better game if I am going around mid April.

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Posted (edited)

April is not a great month to visit for the following reasons;

 

1) The water levels are starting to increase on top of the rainfall in the summer months. Check the charts, the flow at Mohembo is starting to pick up.

 

2) The high rainfall will have created, particularly in one burst has a tendency to create tall grasses, making viewing difficult.

 

3) If he pans are holding a lot of water still, a lot of game will still be in the woodlands.

 

You are not going to see the game densities like east africa, and game viewing be around 50% of Botswana peak season at best. This does not mean you won't have good sightings.

 

If this were April pre-2008, I would say go. But the high water levels have significantly impacted the Delta and reduced a number of the open plains in the areas you are visiting.

 

Having spent around 10 months on safari in Bots between 2003-2011, I would say that they are defInetly trading on theIr pre-2008 reputatIons. The return of Selinda spillway, savute channel and water flowing into the Mababe depression has dramatically altered game viewing dynamics.

 

But still, if you are keen on visiting the delta, go for it, perhaps I am being an old cynic.. Though personally I think a few weeks in other locations could be more rewarding, and for the same cost, visit during peak game viewing.

 

[excuse typos on an ipad]

Edited by russell
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