Climatic Change

, Volume 101, Issue 3–4, pp 617–653 | Cite as

“A sky of brass and burning winds”: documentary evidence of rainfall variability in the Kingdom of Lesotho, Southern Africa, 1824–1900

Article

Abstract

Forecasting austral summer rainfall in southern Africa is hampered by a lack of long-term instrumental data. This paper extends the historical record for the subcontinent by presenting the first extensive 19th century climate history for Lesotho derived from documentary evidence. The data sources included unpublished English-, French- and Sesotho-language materials archived in Lesotho, South Africa and the UK. These included letters, journals and reports written by missionaries and colonial authorities, which were supplemented by newspapers, diaries, travelogues and other historical sources. Each source was read in chronological order, with any climate information recorded verbatim. Observations were classified into five categories (Very Wet, Relatively Wet, ‘Normal’, Relatively Dry, and Very Dry) based upon the predominant documented climate during each ‘rain-year’ (July to June). The latter portion of the chronology was then compared for accuracy against available instrumental precipitation records from Maseru (1886–1900). The results yield a semi-continuous record of climate information from 1824 to 1900. Data are restricted to lowland areas, but reveal drought episodes in 1833–34, 1841–42, 1845–47, 1848–51, 1858–63, 1865–69, 1876–80, 1882–85 and 1895–99 (the most severe drought years being 1850–51 and 1862–63) and wet periods or floods in 1835–36, 1838–41, 1847–48, 1854–56, 1863–65, 1873–75, 1880–81, 1885–86 and 1890–94. The rainfall chronology is compared with similar records for South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Linkages to possible forcing mechanisms, including ENSO teleconnections and historical coral-derived southwest Indian Ocean sea surface temperature variations are also explored.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environment & TechnologyUniversity of BrightonBrightonUK
  2. 2.School of Geography, Archaeology & Environmental StudiesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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