The Climate of South Africa
The climate of South Africa is determined by South Africa's situation between 22°S and 35°S, in the Southern Hemisphere's subtropical zone, and its location between two oceans, Atlantic and Indian.
It has a wider variety of climates than most other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and it has lower average temperatures than other countries within this range of latitude, like Australia, because much of the interior (central plateau or Highveld, including Johannesburg) of South Africa is at higher elevation.
Winter temperatures may reach the freezing point at high altitude, but are at their most mild in coastal regions, particularly the Eastern Cape. Cold and warm coastal currents running north-west and north-east respectively account for the difference in climated between west and east coasts. The weather is also influenced by ENSO (El Niño–Southern Oscillation).
South Africa experiences a high degree of sunshine with rainfall about half of the global average, increasing from west to east, and with semi-desert regions in the north-west. While the Western Cape has a Mediterranean climate with winter rainfall, most of the country experiences summer rain.
South Africa has typical weather for the Southern Hemisphere, with the coldest days in June–August. On the central plateau, which includes the Free State and Gauteng provinces, the altitude keeps the average temperatures below 40 °C (104 °F); Johannesburg, for example, lies at 1,753 metres (5,751 ft). In winter temperatures can drop below freezing, also due to altitude. During winter it is warmest in the coastal regions, especially on the eastern Indian Ocean coast.
Warm season weather is influenced by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). South Africa experiences hotter and drier weather during the El Niño phase, while La Niña brings cooler and wetter conditions.
South Africa is a sunny country, averaging 8–10 daily sunshine hours in most regions. The average annual rainfall for South Africa is about 464 mm (compared to a global average of 860 mm) but large and unpredictable variations are common. Overall, rainfall is greatest in the east and gradually decreases westward, with some semi-desert areas along the western edge of South Africa. For most of the country, rain falls mainly in the summer months with brief afternoon thunderstorms. The exception is the Western Cape and its capital city Cape Town where the climate is Mediterranean and it rains more in the wintertime. In the winter months, snow collects on the high mountains of the Cape and the Drakensberg.
South Africa's coasts are major tourist attractions and trade locations. This makes the ocean important to South Africa and its citizens. The Indian and Atlantic oceans meet at the southwestern tip of South Africa. The warm Agulhas Current runs south along the east coast and the cold Benguela Current flows north along the western shore. As a result, there is at least a 6 °C difference in the annual temperatures of Durban (on the east) and Port Nolloth (on the west) despite being located at roughly the same latitude.
Climatic zones are often referred to by the seasonal pattern of rainfall. The winter rainfall region is confined to a relatively small area in the south-west, the Western Cape area, where gentle rain falls from May to August but the summers are dry. The summer rainfall region is the largest, being most of the country north of the coastal areas and the north west arid desert. Rain fall from October to February and is often heavy, with the amount of precipitation increasing from west to east. The summer and winter rainfall region is the Eastern Cape. The arid regions are in the north-west, with the driest areas being the north-west coast. Vegetation tends to vary by climatic zone, and these also correspond to the horticultural zones.
The Highveld is the eastern plateau area of South Africa. It is typified by Johannesburg, at an elevation of 1,753 metres (5,751 ft). The former Central business district is found on the south side of the prominent ridge called the Witwatersrand and the terrain falls to the north and south. By and large the Witwatersrand marks the watershed between the Limpopo and Vaal rivers. The north and west of the city has undulating hills while the eastern parts are flatter.
The city enjoys a dry, sunny climate, with the exception of occasional late afternoon downpours in the summer months of October to April. Temperatures in Johannesburg are usually fairly mild due to the city's high altitude, with the average maximum daytime temperature in January of 26 °C (78.8 °F), dropping to an average maximum of around 16 °C (60.8 °F) in June. Winter is the sunniest time of the year, with cool days and cold nights. The temperature occasionally drops to below freezing at night, causing frost. Snow is a rare occurrence, with snowfall having been experienced in May 1956, August 1962, June 1964, September 1981, August 2006 (light), on 27 June 2007, accumulating up to 10 centimetres (3.9 in) in the southern suburbs, and most recently on 7 August 2012.
Regular cold fronts pass over in winter bringing very cold southerly winds but usually clear skies. The annual average rainfall is 713 millimetres (28.1 in), which is mostly concentrated in the summer months. Infrequent showers occur through the course of the winter months.
The Western Cape province has a Mediterranean climate with warm to hot, dry, sunny summer weather and mild, rainy conditions in winter.
Spring in South Africa
March is the last hot month of a year like some threshold of autumn. Average daytime temperature is about 25 to 28 °C (77-82 °F). It is still warm enough for swimming at March. The heat diminishes slightly towards the end of March and the chance of rain declines at this time of the year. The young of the different animals born in the early summer months have grown considerably and are better equipped in their evasion of predators. Normally, natural water sources are still easily accessible to animals. At April water cools down but instead hunting season begins especially on baboons (to control population and protect antelopes). Also at April temperature drops by couple of degrees and occasional fogs are occurring. April brings with it the changes of the year and is often the time of the year when the very short bushveld autumn takes place. Water begins to dry up and the temperatures are far more pleasant, but can vary between hot during the day and chilly in the evenings.
At May climatic autumn comes to RSA. This month is the turning point of the year and is the most definitive of the transformation from summer to winter. The temperature difference between day and night is more pronounced, the evenings require warmer clothing, but the days are very pleasant. The ground water begins to dry up now and game starts concentrating closer to the places where water can still be found. This results in the predators moving to the favorite water points in hopeful anticipation of a successful ambush. The deciduous trees start to lose their leaves and the bush has a more open feel to it. The visibility is also starting to get better and one can look further into the bush from the road. This month bring showers, heavy clouds and yellow on branches of trees. It is time to harvest corn, cotton and sugarcane. Temperature in Cape Town barely reaches 19 °C (66 °F) while Johannesburg and Pretoria are warmer with 22 °C (72 °F).
Summer in South Africa
Summer months in RSA are time of winter. Weather is quite unpredictable and strongly depends on location. For instance in Cape Town average temperature is about 17 °C (63 °F) while in Durban is around 21 °C (72 °F) while they are almost on the same latitude. East coasts of RSA are warmer than west by average of 6 °C (≈11 °F) due to influence of warm Agulhas current and cold Benguela current respectively. There is some chance to see snow in towns and there will be plenty of it in mountains.
In many respects July is similar to June, the only difference is that it is more dry, and animals such as the Rhinoceros and the Buffalo make there daily journeys to the rivers to drink. Elephants only leave the river bed in the evening when it is cooler, spending the day feeding on the remaining lush vegetation. Towards the end of the month it slightly starts to warm up during the day, though the evenings are still cold.
August is the driest of the months, the temperature rises during the day and although the nights are cool the days are very pleasant. There are many who rate August as the best time of the year to come to see the animals. The grass is now a gold to brown color and tends to thin out for a big part.
Visit to the country at the middle of summer is unique opportunity to see whales. At this time they are approaching shore close enough for spectating with bare eyes. Unique experience attracts lots of tourists. August is the last month of winter and it is good to visit the blooming Kalahari Desert.
Autumn in South Africa
Spring weather comes to RSA with the very first days of September. Precipitation decreases and temperature rises. In coldest Cape Town air warms up to 18 °C (64 °F), in Durban to 20 °C (68 °F) and 26 °C (79 °F) in Pretoria. Both Atlantic and Indian oceans are too cold for swimming at this time. October is even warmer. Average temperatures gain several positive degrees and famous jacarandas of Pretoria start to bloom. At November average temperature gain couple more degrees while amount of precipitation decreases. It is wonderful time to travel around the Republic of South Africa.
September is a month of great contrasts, the bush is still dry, but many of the trees begin to blossom; the brilliant red of the Weeping Boer-bean, the yellow of the Knobthorn trees or the combination of white and yellow on the Transvaal Gardenia. All of these shower a brilliance over what is now a very dry month for the bush. The last of the winter chills are spent and the days can become hot again. Viewing continues to be exceptional with the lack of water and sparse ground cover.
The days now become warmer and the chances of afternoon showers greater. The general appearance of the bush is now green and the grass starts to coppice, this will attract the grazers like Zebra, Wildebeest and Buffalo. Plenty of migrating birds will arrive to take advantage of the summer conditions, some of them would have come from further north in Africa and some would fly all the way from Europe. The end of the month would see the arrival of the first Impala lambs.
Amount of precipitation distributed unevenly across territory of the country. In north-western regions there are about 200 mm (7.8”) of annual precipitation. Western regions receive 900 mm (35.4”) and central 400 mm (15.7”).
Winter in South Africa
At December hot tropical summer comes to the Republic of South Africa. Average daytime temperature is in the range between 26 °C (79 °F) in Cape Town and 28 °C (82 °F) in Pretoria and Durban. The west of the country becomes rainy but showers occur after noon with sunny half of a day before. This is indeed a busy time, as the lambing of the Impalas and the calving of the Wildebeest gets into full swing. The predators take full advantage of the abundance of youngsters and the evenings are full of action. The characteristic Woodland Kingfisher arrives and their trill like call joins the melody of songs as many of the birds begin to make their nests. The welcome thunder storms are followed by hatches of insects that both birds and mammals take full advantage of. The long hot days result in a great amount of movement in the cooler evenings as the animals appear to be taking full advantage of this time of abundance.
The first month of the year is characterized by lush vegetation that has been generated by the early summer rains. The grass is normally long, particularly along the riverine areas. The larger of the herbivores, such as the Kudu, Zebra and Waterbuck give birth at this time, the thick vegetation allows them to hide their young while they wander nearby. Temperatures can soar into the high thirties, but thunder showers often bring a welcome relief from the heat in the late afternoon.
Considered to be one of the warmest months of the bushveld summer, february is characterized by the animals that only move only when it is cool enough. The chances of thunder showers are not as great as those in January and the heat is drier at this time of year. The general colour of the bush is still green and the vegetation remains thick.
Main beach life is concentrated on coasts of Indian Ocean in Province of Natal. Swimming here is available year-round because temperature of water is 24 °C (75 °F) at winter and 20 °C (68 °F) at summer. Those who don’t like winds weather shouldn’t go to Cape Town at winter. “Cape-doctor” wind is usefull but slightly bothering.
Weather in Cape Town and the Western Cape
The Western Cape enjoys a Mediterranean climate characterised by hot dry summers (September to April) and winter rainfall (May to August). The Western Cape region covers Cape Town as well as most of the wine growing areas of South Africa. The weather in the cape is best enjoyed during the summer months when the beaches tend to fill up. The wind in Cape Town and other parts of the western cape is a force to be reckoned with throughout the year but particularly in Summer. Spring and autumn temperatures in the Western Cape tend to be mild and cool. Winter is generally avoided as cold fronts set in, but the clear days in between are worth the wait.
Like Australia, South Africa’s sun is unforgiving and many tourists have fallen victim to its charms. The Western Cape is well known for runaway fires during the summer months, particularly in December and January. While wet weather in South Africa can lead to flash floods, particularly in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Highveld areas and even parts of the west coast. Finally, electric storms are common along the east coast and in the Highveld. Lightening causes a number of deaths each year in South Africa and visitors to the country should be wary of stormy weather.