There are very few things South Africans enjoy more than the spectacular severity of a summertime thunderstorm! This is especially true after a combination of global warming and the weather phenomenon, El Niño, resulted in one of the worst droughts SA has experienced in years – which devastated agricultural food production and worsened the already severe water shortage crisis!
El Niño & La Niña:
El Niño and La Niña are weather anomalies that effect the rainfall and temperature in certain areas around the world. South African weather service’s predict that as the year draws to a close the effects of El Niño on the country’s climate will gradually weaken and La Niña will strengthen in it’s place.
While El Niño is characterised by a widespread warming of the sea-surface temperatures of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean – resulting in lower-than-normal rainfall across south-central Africa – La Niña, on the other hand, has the exact opposite effect; a continuous cooling of the Pacific which is expected to result in higher-than-normal levels of rainfall in SA.
Unsurprisingly the start of the summer storms has South Africans breathing a sigh of relief after two seasons of exceptionally hot and dry weather. 2015 marked the lowest calendar year rainfall recorded in over 100 years by the South African Weather Service (SAWS). It’s no surprise that the news that La Niña is forecast to bring about high rainfall and improved climate conditions has brought country-wide celebration.
Positive Effects of La Niña on Food Supply & the Economy:
Better climate conditions will increase and improve local and regional food supply. Healthier, larger crops and livestock will subsequently improve red meat distribution, decrease grain imports and increase maize and sugar exports. This is estimated to have a positive effect on the cost of food, food price inflation, consumer inflation and ultimately interest rates. Food price inflation is currently set at 11.3% as of September 2016, the highest in 6 years!
A reduction in food prices is good news fort South African consumers who are already under financial strain due to rising household costs and growing economic pressures.
However, Wandile Sihlobo of the Agricultural Business Chamber stated that food prices are expected to remain elevated until after July 2017, the anticipated date for the main maize harvest, after which a decline should be notable.
Potential Dangers of La Niña:
However, La Niña brings its own set of difficulties. The continual rainfall typical of La Niña is a high flood risk, especially to homes and areas that are ill-prepared and under-equipped to handle high volumes of water. Stormwater runoff – excessive rainfall onto surfaces that do not allow water drainage; such as on roads, roofs and pavements – is the primary cause of flooding in residential areas. Where soil is usually able to absorb stormwater, excessive rainfall results in water quickly accumulating in areas where drainage is poor or slow, causing an overflow. In the same way, heavy rains can cause rivers and dams to overflow their boundaries, flooding areas and settlements situated nearby. In times of heavy rains flash floods become a very real danger!
Flood Risk Management & Preventative Measures:
Households should prepare for potentially extreme and unpredictable weather conditions by putting the appropriate preventative measures in place before the wet season begins.
- Clear drains and gutters of leaves and debris to prevent obstruction. Blockages can cause severe damage to piping and can cause rainwater to overflow and leak into walls. Ensure that the gutters are in good working order, and any leaks or cracks are repaired.
- Inspect the chimney for any cracks or damage and repair as quickly as possible. Ensure you have proper waterproofing in place.
- Neatly store any household items and garden equipment at risk of water damage, especially electrical equipment and appliances (lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners etc), on pallets or shelving in the garage/shed.
- Have a qualified professional inspect and seal electrical wiring and systems!
- Install a water leak sensor that instantly alerts the device user when a leak is detected in the home. Many of these devices are programmed to shut off vital electrical devices before water damage occurs.
- Seal any cracks in windows, walls and flooring with a waterproof/water resistant product to prevent water seeping through. Ensure doors are correctly fitted.
- Replace and repair broken or missing roof tiles.
While the positive effects of La Niña on SA’s rainfall and climate are a welcome relief, South African’s are urged to put the appropriate precautions in place to avoid potential loss and damage due to flooding.