The Western Cape Department of Agriculture has released a drought fact sheet aimed at informing the Western Cape agricultural sector on the 2015-2017 (and ongoing) drought.
The drought in the Western Cape is now into its third year and continues to deepen, with no end in sight. The winter rainfall season of 2017 delivered significantly less rainfall than the long term average. Dam levels in the winter rainfall part of the province on 30 October 2017 were 39.1% compared to 64.1% at the same time in 2016. In areas receiving summer rainfall or rainfall throughout the year, dam levels are at 20.7% compared to 37.8% last year. The vegetation and natural grazing are in extremely poor condition in most of the province.
In the fact sheet, the department stresses the major impact of this drought on the agricultural sector and food security, the cause of the drought and whether it is linked to climate change.
The current drought is characterised by all four drought types, meteorological drought, hydrological drought, agricultural drought and socio-economic drought.
The initial country- and region-wide drought from 2014 to 2016 was triggered by a strong El Niño phase, which usually causes reductions in rainfall in the summer rainfall regions. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a naturally occurring phenomenon that involves fluctuating ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. It is now in a neutral phase, with good rainfalls having broken the drought in many summer rainfall areas. However, the drivers of the continuing drought in the Western Cape are poorly understood owing to the complexity of the climate system which drives precipitation in the winter rainfall region.
The question is often asked: Is this climate change? Although droughts in themselves are not due to climate change, more frequent and intense droughts may be part of a changing climate in particular regions, including most Mediterranean-type climate regions, and magnified by increasing heat.
Scientists agree that the Western Cape will become relatively drier in future. This will most likely see the southward (poleward) shift of the westerly winds which will block the movement of cold fronts onto the Southern African peninsula, thereby reducing rainfall in the region. Seasonal cycles and natural cycles of relatively wetter and driers winters, including droughts will continue, but a shift in these patterns of variability is expected.
Article supplied by agriorbit.com/