Intensity and spatial extension of drought in South Africa at different time scales

  • Mathieu Rouault
  • Yves Richard
Keywords: South African drought, Drought monitoring, El Nino, Climate change


The standardised precipitation index (SPI) is an index that allows monitoring the intensity and spatial extension of droughts at different time scales (3, 6, 12 and 24 months). The SPI is linked to the probability occurrence of dry or wet events. The SPI allows monitoring operationally any location with a 30-year time series. It is also used here to do a retrospective analysis of the spatial extension and intensity of droughts in South Africa since 1921. According to this index, the 8 most severe droughts at the 6-month time scale for the summer rainfall region of South Africa happened in 1926, 1933, 1945, 1949, 1952, 1970, 1983 and 1992. There is considerable decadal variability and an 18 to 20 year cycle is only found in the number of dry districts. The total number of wet and dry districts per decade seems to have increased since the 1960s. Drought lasting 3 years is not uncommon for each of the 8 South African rainfall regions defined by the South African Weather Service. Combining the retrospective analysis with real time monitoring could be extremely beneficial in the development of response, mitigation strategies and awareness plans.

WaterSA Vol.29(4) 2003: 489-500

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eISSN: 0378-4738