This page presents South Africa's climate context for the current climatology, 1991-2020, derived from observed, historical data. Information should be used to build a strong understanding of current climate conditions in order to appreciate future climate scenarios and projected change. You can visualize data for the current climatology through spatial variation, the seasonal cycle, or as a time series. Analysis is available for both annual and seasonal data. Data presentation defaults to national-scale aggregation, however sub-national data aggregations can be accessed by clicking within a country, on a sub-national unit. Other historical climatologies can be selected from the Time Period dropdown list. Data for specific coordinates can be downloaded for in the Data Download page.
South Africa is comprised of a large central plateau that is home to extensive grasslands, a continuous escarpment of mountain ranges that surround the plateau on the west, south and east, and a narrow strip of low-lying land along the coastline. The country is located within what is considered a ‘drought belt’ and is the fifth most water scarce country in sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 50% of the country’s water supplies are used by the extensive and industrial agriculture sector. The topography varies from desert to semi-desert in the drier northwestern region to sub-humid and wet along the country’s eastern coast; approximately half of the country is classified as arid or semi-arid. South Africa has both sub-tropical and temperate climate conditions, which are influenced by the ocean along the east and west coasts as well as the interior plateaus, bringing a cool, wet climate in the Drakensberg region, to warm, sub-tropical in the north east, and a Mediterranean climate in the south west and a warm dry desert environment in the central west and north west. Average annual rainfall in South Africa is about 464 mm, with the Western Cape getting the majority of its rainfall in winter (June to August) and the rest of the country receiving summer (December to February) rainfall. Average temperatures in South Africa range from 15℃ to 36℃ in the summer and -2℃ to 26℃ in the winter. South Africa is highly vulnerable to climate variability and change due to the country’s high dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources. The high evaporation rate of already dry soils and the virtual absence of permanent surface water over large parts of the country make water is a scarce resource, with some projections indicating that even without climate change, the country is likely to run through its existing surface water resources. Mean annual temperature for South Africa as a whole is 17.5℃, with average monthly temperatures ranging between 22°C (December, January) and 11°C (June, July). Annual precipitation is 469.9 mm, with highest rainfall occurring November to March, coupled with extremely low precipitation occurring between June to August.
- South Africa has already seen considerable temperature increases since the 1960s, when average temperatures have increased by 1.5℃, with more marked increases across arid, inland areas of the country.
- Both maximum and minimum daily temperatures have risen, across all seasons.
- Temperature extremes have also increased significantly. Notably, the rate of temperature change has fluctuated, with the highest rates of increase identified during the mid 1970s to early 1980s, with highest rates again observed in the late 1990s to mid 2000s.
- Precipitation trends have continued to exert a high degree of inter-annual variability for South Africa, as they have for southern Africa as a whole.
- Marginal reduction in rainfall was experienced during the autumn months. Observations point to potentially significant decreases in the number of rain days across almost all hydrological zones, implying a tendency towards an increase in the intensity of rainfall events, coupled with prolonged dry spells.
- High inter-annual rainfall variability is evident in the historical record, with above average rainfall was value received during 1970s, late 1980s and mid-to-late 1990s. Below average rainfall values were observed in the early 2000s.