Much of SA will grow drier for longer, says a new climate-change study – and quite a bit hotter

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Dry spells: coming harder and longer
  • In large parts of South Africa, climate change is going to mean a longer dry season, which is drier with longer dry spells, a new modelling study says.
  • Things are also going to get hotter by about 2070, as much as 6C hotter in the dry season.
  • Periods between rain could get as much as 10 days longer.
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In the next 50 years, South Africa is going to see some dramatic changes during the dry season, a new climate change study says. Dry spells will be longer, the entire dry season will be longer, and it will get quite a bit hotter while the rains stay away.

For a country already struggling with drought, the forecast is not good, say the study's authors, and agriculture will be significantly affected.

A team from the University of Reading used new statistical and computer simulation methods to split out the likely impact of climate change on dry seasons and wet seasons in various parts of the world.

Some regions, their study in the  Journal of Hydrometeorology shows, are so wet or dry that there is little statistical difference in their seasonality as the climate shifts. But the places deeply affected include a big swathe of South Africa which, alongside a chunk of South America, is predicted to face a double whammy: less rainfall overall during the dry season, and longer spells without any rain.

Future Changes in Wet and Dry Season Characteristi
A summary map of the results of the study Future Changes in Wet and Dry Season Characteristics in CMIP5 and CMIP6 Simulations.

By the time of the forecast, 2070 to 2099, the rains could take as much as two weeks longer to arrive every year, the new model suggests. During that longer dry season, spells with no rain at all could increase by up to 10 days. And the average temperate for the dry season could rise by as much as 6 degrees Celsius.

"Many countries within our study, such as South Africa, already suffer from drought, so the prospect of hotter and drier spells at the of year time when water is scarcer is seriously problematic," said University of Reading climate scientist Caroline Wainwright in a statement on the new paper.

"Agriculture is vital in these regions for feeding communities, as well as providing vital income through exporting foods around the world. These findings are further evidence that climate change will affect the way we live and impact lives."

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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