This page presents Zambia'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.
Zambia experiences a predominantly sub-tropical climate characterized by three distinct seasons: a hot and dry season (mid-August to mid-November), a wet rainy season (mid-November to April) and a cool dry season (May to mid-August). Rainfall is strongly influenced by the movement of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) as well as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon and varies from an annual average of 600 mm in the lower south up to 1,300 mm in the upper north of the country. Climate is tropical by location near the equator. The annual rainfall in Zambia averages between 700 mm in the south and 1,400 mm in the north. The hot months are very dry, receiving almost no rainfall between May and August. The wet season (September-April) rainfall is controlled by the passage of the tropical rain belt (also known as the Inter‐Tropical Conversion Zone, ITCZ) which oscillates between the northern and southern tropics over the course of a year, bringing rain between October and April of 150‐300 mm per month.
Variations in the movements of the ITCZ can cause large variations in the rainfall received from one year to the next. Rainfall in Zambia is also strongly influenced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which causes further inter‐annual variability. El Niño conditions (warm phase) bring drier than average conditions in the wet summer months (December-February) in the southern half of the country, whilst the north of the country simultaneously experiences significantly wetter‐than average conditions. The reverse pattern occurs with La Niña (cold phase) episodes, with dry conditions in the north and wet conditions in the south.
- Mean annual temperature has increased by 1.3°C since 1960, an average rate of 0.29°C per decade. The rate of increase is most rapid in the winter, at 0.34°C per decade.
- Daily temperature observations show significantly increasing trends in the frequency hot days and nights in all seasons.
- The average number of ‘hot’ days per year in Zambia has increased by 43 (an additional 11.8% of days) between 1960 and 2003.
- The frequency of cold days and nights has decreased since 1960 in all seasons and the average number of ‘cold ‘days per year has decreased by 22 (6% of days) between 1960 and 2003.
- From 1971 to 2005, a 58 mm decline in rainfall (6%) relative to 1940 to 1970 was recorded.
- The South-Western region was the most severely affected with rainfall seasons becoming critically shorter.
- Rainfall records have shown that southern Zambia had experienced below average rainfall in the period 1886 – 1925 and above average rainfall between 1926 to 1970.
- During this reporting period, Zambia also experienced more frequent and intense droughts, dry spells and floods. Since 2000, Zambia has experienced nearly annual episodes of droughts, dry spells, and floods.