Wet summer for north-east SA despite El Niño — drier hopes for west, central regions
As the El Niño weather pattern sets in, above-average rainfall is still forecast for ‘large parts’ of South Africa over the next couple of months. The north-east will remain wet until at least February but drier conditions will take hold by Christmas in the west and central regions.
The latest monthly Climate Watch issued by the SA Weather Service — which looks five months ahead — is little changed from the previous, but there has been a shift.
In last month’s Climate Watch, the Weather Service said the: “… forecast indicates above-normal rainfall for most of the country during mid-spring (Sep-Oct-Nov) and late-spring (Oct-Nov-Dec)”. (Italics added).
The new one issued late on Tuesday says the models now indicate “above-normal rainfall for large parts of the country during the Oct-Nov-Dec season, though mostly with low probabilities of above-normal rainfall”. (Italics added).
So the previous forecast of a wet spring and early summer for most of the country has been narrowed geographically and is no longer as certain. And much of the country is seen getting less rain than normal very soon.
“Below-normal rainfall is expected during the Nov-Dec-Jan and Dec-Jan- Feb seasons over the western and central parts of the country, with the highest probabilities of below-normal rainfall over the far-western parts of the country. Predictions still favour above-normal rainfall conditions over the northeastern parts of the country, even with an El Niño in place,” the latest forecast says.
It’s also going to be warm and that has certainly been the case in places such as Gauteng the past few weeks.
“Minimum and maximum temperatures are expected to be mostly above-normal countrywide for the forecast period,” the Weather Service said.
“Caution is advised at this point as the El Niño effect might still manifest its influence in the next few months and change the outlook of the rainfall forecast for mid- and late-summer.”
As with any medium or long-term weather forecast, nothing is set in stone and El Niño is seen shaking the forecast up.
If the forecast holds for the northeast, it will be good news for summer grain and other farmers in the region. But in central South Africa, the forecast bodes ill for the crucial maize and other crops.
South Africa has had three straight bumper maize harvests thanks in part to a prolonged La Niña weather pattern, which often brings drenching rains to this region.
El Niño by contrast often heralds drought in these parts, and the 2014-2016 event scorched maize and other crops, hammered livestock herds and left dams high and dry.
Food inflation in South Africa has been slowing but at 8.0% is still high. With fuel prices surging again and Avian Flu triggering egg shortages, calories will remain costly if El Niño becomes searing this summer.
The world has also just experienced the hottest August on record, the latest in a string of such records this year, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The bottom line is that South Africa needs to brace for a potential scorcher of a summer. DM