South Africa’s weather forecast for 2021 is currently highly uncertain. While an El Niño condition seems unlikely to occur, the opposite La Niña seems to be in a neutral phase. It may yet be an indicator of possible good rainfall in 2022.

While the Western Cape’s forecast for winter rain from June to August, and maybe even September, looks relatively positive, most of the drought-stricken southwestern and eastern parts of the country are looking at less favourable rain conditions over the next few months.

These prospects were conveyed by the independent weather specialist, Johan van den Berg, via a webinar hosted by the Agricultural Writers SA !Xhariep branch on 4 May. During the session, he elaborated on expected trends for the winter rainfall season. He also focused on the latest La Niña developments which, unfortunately for the dry areas in the country, have ended in March this year.

“The La Niña-system peaked in December 2020 and cooler sea surface temperatures were experienced in January and February,” he said. “While some northern areas received a fair bit of rain, most of the southern parts in our country, including parts of the Northern and Eastern Cape, remained dry over the past summer season between December 2020 and March 2021.”

A weaker rainfall outlook expected

The La Niña weakened rapidly during February and March and the current rainfall outlook for May and June seems much weaker than expected. So far, it is not clear if the winter rainfall area will experience a good or dry season.

“The reason for this,” said Van den Berg, “is that the rapid change in weather systems can play havoc with accurate weather forecasting. Add to that the fact that winter systems, not being constant, are usually highly unpredictable. The general forecast for May is that most of the country will be in a neutral phase. It is unlikely that the Indian Ocean will have a huge influence on the weather. Moreover, there is currently only a 10% chance of a La Niña developing in the coming winter months, with a probability for mostly neutral conditions continuing in August, September and October.”

We saw the first real cold front reach the country at the end of May last year. According to Van den Berg, winter temperatures in South Africa seem to be dropping gradually over time, especially between July and September. He said another cold winter, similar to the 2020 winter season during which some cracking sub-zero temperatures were recorded in some places, could soon be knocking at South Africans’ door.

Yet, while the rainfall outlook for this month leaves much to be desired, there is still a probability of above-average rainfall later this season. Some indications are even that we will see a few more snowmen this year. – Carin Venter, AgriOrbit

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