Natural Hazards

, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 657–681 | Cite as

South African droughts and decadal variability

  • J. Malherbe
  • B. Dieppois
  • P. Maluleke
  • M. Van Staden
  • D. L. Pillay
Original Paper


We explore the historical occurrence of extensive droughts over South Africa within the context of decadal climate variability. A Standardized Precipitation Index dataset is developed and used to assess the spatial extent of droughts in South Africa for the period 1920–2014. The most extensive droughts over the period at various time scales are identified and discussed. Results of a wavelet analysis are also presented towards identifying statistically significant regional climate variation with which the occurrence of droughts is associated. The occurrence of drought with respect to the El Niño Southern Oscillation and decadal climate variability is also considered. Significant associations between short-term droughts and decadal variability are pointed out. An overview of global sea surface temperature and Southern Hemisphere sea-level pressure associations with three prominent scales of multi-year climate variability is given. Dry epochs at the most prominent time scales are shown to be significantly negatively related to the Southern Annular Mode and associated sea surface temperature anomalies in the mid-to-high southern latitudes. Relations with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, Inter-Decadal Pacific Oscillation and ENSO, which are all associated with a Southern Annular Mode of opposite sign, are also highlighted.


Decadal variability Drought Standardized Precipitation Index Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index South Africa ENSO 



The work completed for this manuscript was in partial fulfilment of the “Inputs to Indicative Risk Profile for Drought” project deliverables, with support from the National Disaster Management Centre, South Africa. Support for the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project dataset is provided by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (DOE INCITE) Program, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Malherbe
    • 1
  • B. Dieppois
    • 2
    • 3
  • P. Maluleke
    • 1
  • M. Van Staden
    • 4
  • D. L. Pillay
    • 4
  1. 1.Agricultural Research Council - Institute for Soil, Climate and WaterPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Centre for Agroecology, Water and ResilienceCoventry UniversityCoventryUK
  3. 3.African Climate Development InitiativeUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  4. 4.National Disaster Management CentrePretoriaSouth Africa

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