By Chelsea Pieterse, The Witness
This year’s July was the hottest month since weather records began in 1880, and experts are “uncertain” whether to expect a drought this summer or not.
Last year’s temperatures for the southern hemisphere were the highest yet recorded. However, February, March, April, May, and July this year were recorded as hotter than last year’s corresponding months.
University of KwaZulu-Natal agrometeorology Professor Mike Savage said that July this year in particular was “much warmer” than recorded in 2016.
July 2016 had previously owned the title of the hottest recorded month.
Savage said the temperatures were “strongly indicative of continued climate change on a large scale, mainly due to increased greenhouse gas emissions”.
KZN suffered a devastating drought from the end of 2014 into 2017.
Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Northern KwaZulu-Natal and the South Coast had water restrictions and farmers suffered crop losses and livestock deaths.
The two main causes, according to Savage, were the El Niño weather phenomenon, and climate change.
“El Niño is a rise in South Pacific ocean temperatures that affects weather patterns across the globe and results in a reduction in rainfall in southern Africa,” said Savage.
He said during 2015, there were nine consecutive months of El Niño conditions. “Since the first quarter of 2016, conditions were a mix of weak El Niño and weak La Niña conditions.”
La Niña conditions tend to result in increased rainfall in southern Africa.
The South African Weather Service (SAWS) said in late July the forecasting system is “very uncertain on a specific direction of rainfall throughout the country”.
“There is an indication for above-normal rainfall over the far western parts of South Africa. This uncertainty is particularly common in winter as forecasting systems have limited skill in predicting the important rainfall bearing systems during this time of the year.”
Savage said it was also likely the country would experience hotter conditions this year than last year due to climate change.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology found that the El Niño is currently neutral. “This means little chance of El Niño conditions and therefore lower than expected rainfall is unlikely. So as far as the experts are concerned, the future is uncertain,” Savage said.
Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder said the latest forecast by SAWS indicates a strong probability of below-normal rainfall between August and November this year.
“Some forecasters suggest we are likely to start receiving good rains from December 2017. However, it is hoped that substantial data will emerge when the October 2017 forecasts are released.”
He said the Mgeni system Joint Operations Committee will apply to central government to extend existing water restrictions of 15% in the Mgeni system by a further 12 months.
“This application has been made to ensure that, in the event of less-than-average rainfall occurring from September 2017 to February 2018, some water will be available to meet the needs of consumers in uMgungundlovu, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.”
He said they hoped that snow that fell on parts of the Drakensberg recently would have an impact on dam levels.
Chelsea Pieterse, The Witness
Too little rain? Too much rain? Bottom line? We are facing serious water problems in this country. Supply vs demand. There simply isn’t enough water for everyone, especially not the way some waste water as if there is no tomorrow. Please harvest your rainwater, re-use it in the garden, in the house, top up the pool, anywhere, as long as it is re-used somewhere. Recycle your grey water for irrigation, wetlands, ponds top-up – there is sooooooooooooo much you can do by recycling water. It is our responsibility as human beings to make sure we leave some for tomorrow.
“It is early to say what impact — if any — will be seen,” he said.