Summer drought looms

2015-10-08 06:00

A dry ‘reservoir’ that hasn’t seen water for many months.

PHOTO: SOURCED A dry ‘reservoir’ that hasn’t seen water for many months.

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KWAZULU-NATAL is in the midst of the driest year in a century as a “Godzilla­”, an El Niño weather phenomenon, takes hold.

Research from the South African Weather Service (Saws) has shown that the period between July 2014 and June 2015 in KZN has been the driest since 1900, over 100 years.

A report by the weather service said KZN experienced “on average ­below-normal rainfall conditions for 15 consecutive months since March 2014”.

With dam levels low and a dramatic ­increase in temperatures in KZN, the ­province can expect little relief from the ongoing drought.

As temperatures reach into the forties this month in Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle, Ulundi and Ladysmith, the weather ­service and Umgeni Water urge people to conserve water and prepare for a dry summer.

Prediction research scientist Cobus Olivier said yesterday the increase in ­temperatures and decrease in rain “is believed to be a direct result of the current El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean”.

The El Niño Southern Oscillation ­(Enso) is an atmosphere-ocean ­phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and evolves between three phases.

“The first phase sees warmer top ocean waters being transported from the Americas’ side of the Pacific Ocean to the Australasian side by trade winds (wind blowing towards the equator from the north-east in the northern hemisphere or the south-east in the southern hemisphere).

“There is an upwelling effect in the east, bringing colder water from the deeper ocean areas to the surface.

“When the trade winds strengthen, a cool phase [La Niña] occurs where the ­upwelling is strengthened and the ­equatorial eastern Pacific is significantly cooler than normal.

“On the other hand, when the trade winds break down or even reverse their normal direction, the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean warms up and is known as the warm phase [El Niño].”

Olivier said this affects weather ­patterns all over South Africa, with the rainfall-bearing systems literally moving away and being replaced by a system not favourable to rainfall.

“Currently there is a very strong El Niño phase in effect, and there is ­significant concern for South Africa’s summer rainfall areas. The coming summer is unlikely to ­provide much relief for current drought-stricken areas such as KwaZulu­-Natal, and key decision-makers in the region are ­advised to take the necessary precautions which are related to well below-normal rainfall­ and well above-normal ­temperatures.

“As always, it is advised that the short- and medium-term forecasts be monitored for any extreme events, even if the season in general is expected to be drier than ­normal.”

Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder said the Umgeni water­ ­system has sufficient water for eThekwini, Umgungundlovu and Msunduzi. ­However, there may be cause for concern if the rain does not come soon.

“People need to accept that the rainfall we are receiving this year is not the same as the rain received in the past. We ask that people begin to save ­water voluntarily.”

With water levels in dams in the ­Umzinto system at a concerning level, Harichunder said they would be “in dire straits” if they were unable to transfer ­water from the Tongaat dam to Hazelmere, which is currently sitting at 29%. He said the high temperatures “did not help” as it would cause evaporation in dams, and water levels would dissipate more quickly than usual.

“Consumers have to start practising ­restraint, because the amount of water we have will decrease rapidly if the rain does not come.”

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