South Africa country overview

The land of South Africa

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

South Africa information index

Climate of South Africa

The vast majority of the nation is situated within the temperate climatic zone, where extreme temperatures are uncommon. Proximity to a subtropical high-pressure zone, characterized by descending air, fosters stable weather conditions across much of the nation’s territory, resulting in a predominantly arid climate.

The nation’s considerable elevation mitigates the impact of its latitude, ensuring that even the tropical and sub-tropical regions in the north experience cooler temperatures than they would otherwise. The absence of maritime influences and the high elevation contribute to significant diurnal temperature fluctuations in the interior.

Maritime influences play a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s climate, with the surrounding oceans to the east, south, and west exerting a significant impact. The temperate cyclones from the southern ocean are particularly influential during the winter months, as they migrate northward, affecting weather patterns. The cool Benguela Current along the west coast not only lowers temperatures but also enhances the aridity and atmospheric stability in the western regions. Conversely, the warm Mozambique and Agulhas currents elevate temperatures along the east and southeast coasts, promoting the ascent of warmer air and facilitating the ingress of moisture-laden clouds from the east.

Throughout the year, the country and adjacent oceanic regions are subject to the effects of descending, divergent upper air masses that predominantly move eastward, resulting in fair weather and low annual precipitation, particularly in the western areas. In the winter season, which spans from June to August, cold polar air encroaches upon the coastal regions in the southwest, south, and southeast, occasionally penetrating the southern interior from the southwest, bringing with it cold fronts, rain, and snow. During the summer months, from December to February, the Atlantic high-pressure system becomes a semi-permanent feature over the southern and western parts of the nation. Local terrestrial heating can induce low-pressure conditions, drawing in tropical air masses laden with rain from the Indian Ocean into the northeastern territories.

The country’s climate is predominantly semi-arid, with precipitation levels exhibiting considerable variability, often resulting in water scarcity for agricultural activities. Over one-fifth of the land experiences aridity, receiving less than 8 inches (200 mm) of rain annually, while nearly half of the country is semi-arid, with annual precipitation ranging from 8 to 24 inches (200 to 600 mm). Only a small fraction, approximately 6 percent, receives in excess of 40 inches (1,000 mm) of rainfall per year. Precipitation decreases progressively from east to west, with the KwaZulu-Natal coast receiving over 40 inches (1,000 mm) annually, Kimberley around 16 inches (400 mm), and Alexander Bay on the west coast less than 2 inches (50 mm).

Summertime temperatures are typically warm to hot, ranging from 70 to 90 °F (21 to 32 °C) during the day. Elevated regions experience cooler temperatures, while the northern, northeastern, and central southern regions, including the western plateau and river valleys, tend to be warmer. Interior regions experience significant nocturnal temperature drops, occasionally by as much as 30 °F (17 °C), whereas coastal areas have a narrower daily temperature range. Winters are generally cool to cold, with many elevated regions experiencing sub-freezing nighttime temperatures, yet daytime temperatures range between 50 to 70 °F (10 to 21 °C). Coastal winters, particularly on the eastern and southeastern coasts, are warmer. There is a westward decline in temperatures; for instance, Durban has an annual average temperature of 69 °F (21 °C), while Port Nolloth, at a similar latitude on the west coast, records an average of 57 °F (14 °C).

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