Even El-Niño no match for the weather gods

2010-01-31 10:23

IT’S an El-Niño year. Not that you’d be able to tell.

With rainfall continuing across much of the country well into the

end of January, weather forecasters are feeling a little sheepish.

“What is really concerning is that all our forecast models suggest

that there should be very little rain during the mid-summer months,” says Willem

Landman, principal researcher in Natural Resources and the Environment at the

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. “But this year we’ve been left

with egg on our faces.”

El-Niño is a phenomenon that occurs approximately every three to

seven years, when sea surface temperatures rise and become much warmer than

usual in the eastern and central parts of the Pacific Ocean.

This affects air circulation patterns worldwide, changing all the

usual weather patterns during El-Niño.

In South Africa, the effects of El-Niño are felt from about

December to March. Generally, South African seasonal rainfall during El-Niño

years is characterised by favourable spring weather, but below average rainfall

thereafter, and sometimes even drought.

Johan Van den Berg, agricultural climatologist for Santam, notes

that the current rainfall levels are far above what was expected, with farmers

from Mpumalanga, the North West, and the maize-producing Free State town of

­Viljoenskroon reporting waterlogged conditions and poor sunshine.

So why the discrepancy? Landman attributes the current heavy

rainfall to prevailing tropical weather systems situated over the subcontinent

that don’t normally occur at the same time as El-Niño.

The current El-Niño event was predicted as early as July last year.

“The prediction was accurate,” insists Landman.

“There definitely is an El-Niño at the moment and it is expected to

last throughout the remaining months of this summer season. We just haven’t seen

the expected midsummer drought normally associated with El-Niño events.”

He adds that while a drought was anticipated, the current rainfall

isn’t out of the ordinary.

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