SA’s cooler and above-average rainfall conditions have been attributed to a La Niña season. Whether it will be repeated next year is still too early to tell, but indications are that the rainfall will continue. “We’ll be able to forecast what the next rainy season will bring closer to the end of autumn,” said Willem Landman, chief scientist at the SA Weather Service. According to Grain SA economist Corné Louw, conditions in Mpumalanga are very wet, but the northern Free State is drying up.
Johan van den Berg of Enviro Vision said that the rainfall is on average similar to last year January’s figures, but because 2007 was overall a dry year, soil moisture levels were very low at the beginning of this year. “This has allowed much of the rain that has fallen to be absorbed by the soil,” said Van den Berg. “Because of the La Niña there’s a good probability of above-average rainfall in the central and western part of the country in late summer.”
Landman says there’s no way of knowing if next year will also be a La Niña year since the tropical Pacific will be in an El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) neutral state in the second part of winter which will give no indication of which way rain patterns may go. South Africa experienced consecutive La Niña seasons in the 1999/2000 and 2000/2001 seasons, which saw widespread floods across the country. Even if more above-average rain is predicted for next season, Louw believes that it won’t cause farmers to plant less. “If more rain is forecast farmers tend to take the risk. However, if a drought is predicted farmers won’t think twice about planting less,” said Louw.
Current national dam levels, according to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, are at about 85% – 1,7% down on the same time last year. E astern Cape dams are 78,7% full, 5% down on the corresponding time last year. KwaZulu-Natal’s capacity is currently at 89,3%, compared with last year’s 93,1%. Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng are currently at 92,3%, 66,9% and 101,3% respectively. This is compared to last year’s 90,4% for Mpumalanga, 61,2% for Limpopo and 94,7% for Gauteng. Northern Cape dams are 7,9% up on last year at 97,1%, while the Free State is marginally down at 87%. The Western Cape and North West are both significantly up at 76,9% and 76,2% respectively, compared with last year’s 61,2% for the Western Cape and 66,3% for North West. – David Steynberg