South Africa buckles under scorching weather

South Africans know El Niño means a hot, dry summer, but climate experts from the North-West University (NWU) warn the El Niño impact extends beyond just drought – there is some evidence, although not significant, that it also brings severe weather events and increased risk of heat stress.

El Niño, a global climate phenomenon characterised by the warming of ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, is partly to blame for the current scorching temperatures in South Africa. The summer has barely started and various regions around the country have already recorded heat waves.

According to Dr Henno Havenga, an atmospheric scientist at the NWU, El Niño occurs every few years, disrupting typical weather patterns and leading to various changes in global weather systems. In South Africa, it results in an eastward shift of the weather patterns that we usually experience and subsequently leads to drier conditions across the country.

Dr Havenga says the country should brace itself for abnormal weather as was experienced in Gauteng earlier this month, where hail and thunderstorms caused havoc. The driver of these severe and unpredictable events is a combination of heat and moisture, and according to projections regarding El Niño and future climate change, the energy available to drive these systems is increasing.

According to Dr Havenga, the impacts of El Niño are significant enough to warrant careful monitoring and preparedness for severe heat waves and variable weather.

He has advised the public to regularly visit the South African Weather Service's website, which provides seasonal forecasts and is a good source of the latest seasonal rainfall predictions for the country.

Effects on agriculture

El Niño can profoundly impact the agricultural sector, primarily through altered rainfall patterns and temperature changes.

“In South Africa, these changes can lead to drought conditions that affect crop production and livestock adversely. Reduced rainfall can challenge water availability, which is essential for irrigation and sustaining livestock,” explains Dr Havenga.

In addition, higher temperatures can cause stress to crops and animals, potentially decreasing yields and productivity. These effects can be particularly acute in regions like North West, where agriculture relies heavily on consistent weather patterns for grain crops and cattle farming.

Mitigation strategies

There are several measures farmers can adopt to prepare for the uncertainties of El Niño and contribute to long-term agricultural sustainability.

These, says Dr Havenga, may include diversification of crops, implementing water-saving techniques such as efficient irrigation systems and fixing leaking infrastructure, investing in soil conservation practices, using drought-resistant crop varieties and staying informed about weather forecasts to make timely decisions about planting and harvesting.

Dealing with current weather

Producers should be aware that even within El Niño events, severe weather conditions such as hail and flash flooding are still possible on very local scales, and the higher temperatures typically associated with El Niño can cause heat stress for both workers and animals.

“It is advisable for producers to avoid labour-intensive activities during heatwaves to prevent heatstroke and hyperthermia. High temperatures coupled with high humidity levels necessitate increased hydration for both humans and animals, and it is important to provide shaded or cool areas for livestock,” says Dr Havenga.


Dr Havenga has called on producers to take precautions amid high temperatures this summer.

Submitted on Fri, 11/24/2023 - 08:34