Monday, April 9, 2012

Climate as I saw it

The climate in Sierra Leone took some getting used to. Days could get hot with maximum temperatures hovering around 100ºF during the dry season. On many days the humidity could be stifling. Clothes on the line might not dry, and bed sheets felt moist when time came to sleep. In our first days I think it was the humidity that got to us most. Those days were often interspersed with both sun and clouds and rain. The rain would come off and on during those early rain season days and come in sheets. Clouds would be low in the sky, and often there would be thunder and lightening. Sometimes there would be heavy winds and heavy, heavy rain. So – our first weeks in Sierra Leone, in July 1968 I noticed the humidity and try as we might to adjust to it, there seemed nothing that we could do. We dressed in light cotton clothes and by mid morning, as sweat pored off, our clothes would be soaked and in need of change. If there was rain, it might feel a slight bit cooler, but again it was the moisture in the air that seemed to be the challenge. Early on we bought large umbrellas that we carried everywhere. Rains could come quickly and without warning, and could delay your walking about. Rain season, as it was called, began sometime in late March or early April and lasted until October. During that period, the area got between 150 and 200 inches of rain. Some days rain seemed to last all day but more likely was a day in which there might be sun intermittently mixed with periods of downpour. In Kenema, there was slightly less rain and humidity than in Freetown but this difference was minor.

So our first few months in country required adjustments with the climate being one of a number of challenges. However, as time went on we clearly started to figure it all out. The heat became increasingly tolerable. We figured out how to deal with the intense sun, and we learned how to adjust to the humidity. And – I suspect – there was a change in our physiology as well. In those first few weeks, my clothes would be drenched by mid morning and with just minimal activity walking about. And after our first few months in Kenema, I could walk from our house to downtown Kenema and back, umbrella in hand, and barely sweat at all. Something clearly changed within us. During the October to March dry season the sun during the day could get quite harsh but when we headed downtown to shop, our umbrellas would protect us not from rains, which never came during dry season, but from the sun. And as the dry season continued on in February and March, the days would get increasingly humid, but again rain did not fall. On a trip down to Kenema from our home, a distance of more than a mile, the heat could be terrific if we chose midday to head out, and with it, the humidity could be brutal. But dry season nights and early mornings could be downright comfortable. In December, dry winds off the Sahara called the Harmattan, were cooling and dusty. The air on some days might be tan tinged in color as dust off the Sahara would be blown toward our area. But there were times when we were comfortable – we even joked about being cold. Our neighbors found those mornings quite cool and they would dress with extra clothing. For us, those days would be the most pleasant.

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