South Africa Holiday: Weather / Climate

South Africa is classified as semi-arid and has considerable climatic variation, ranging from the Mediterranean in the south-west, to temperate in the interior plateau, subtropical in the northeast and semi-arid desert in the north-west.

Most of South Africa has warm, sunny days and cool nights. Rainfall generally occurs during the summer months (November to March), although in the southwest, around Cape Town, rainfall occurs in winter (June to August).
The temperatures and rainfall are influenced by variations in elevation, terrain, and ocean currents more than latitude.

Climatic conditions vary noticeably between east and west, largely in response to the warm Agulhas ocean current, which sweeps southward along the Indian Ocean coastline in the east for several months of the year, and the cold Benguela current, which sweeps northward along the Atlantic Ocean coastline in the west. The effects of these two currents can be seen even at the narrow peninsula of the Cape of Good Hope, where water temperatures average 4�C higher on the east side than on the west.

South Africa Holiday: Click to see a larger image of the rainfall map
Rainfall also varies considerably from west to east. In the northwest, annual rainfall often remains below 200mm. Much of the eastern Highveld, in contrast, receives 500mm to 900mm of rainfall per year; occasionally, rainfall there exceeds 2,000mm. A large area of the centre of the country receives about 400mm of rain, on average, and there are wide variations closer to the coast.

The south-western corner of the country has a Mediterranean climate, with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Its most famous climatic characteristic is its wind, which blows intermittently virtually all year round, either from the south-east or the north-west.

The cold Benguela current sweeps up from the Antarctic along the Atlantic coast, laden with plankton and providing rich fishing grounds. This current retains its moisture, causing semi-arid desert conditions in much of the Northern Cape.

The great inland Karoo plateau (which stretches from the northern part of the Western Cape, across the southern half of the Northern Cape and the western part of the Eastern Cape), is where rocky hills and mountains rise from sparsely populated scrubland. It is very dry, and gets more so as it merges north-west through the Northern Cape towards the Kalahari desert.

South Africa Holiday: Click to see a larger image of the temperature map
Extremely hot in summer, the Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo and the Savannah of the Northern Cape can be icy-cold on winter nights. On high ground in the Karroo it often gets a sprinkling of snow in winter.

South Africa’s two temperature extremes have been recorded in the Northern Cape. In 1948 the temperature reached 51.7�C in the Kalahari near Upington, and temperatures in summer are often in excess of 40�C. The coldest place in the country is Sutherland in the western Roggeveld Mountains in the Succulent Karroo, with midwinter temperatures as low as minus 15�C.
The eastern section of the Karoo does not extend as far north as the western part, giving way to the flat landscape and grasslands of the Free State. North of the Vaal River the Highveld is better watered and saved by its altitude from subtropical extremes of heat. Winters are cold but snow is rare.

Further north and to the east, especially where a drop in altitude beyond the escarpment gives the Lowveld its name, temperatures rise. The Tropic of Capricorn slices through the extreme north in the Limpopo. This is also where to find the typical South African Bushveld of wildlife fame. The best time to visit for a safari is late autumn and winter (May to August), when there is less rain and less dense vegetation, making animal sightings more frequent.
The east coast has the north-to-south Agulhas current to thank for its warm waters, and the ready evaporation of the Indian Ocean provides generous rainfall in Durban and much of KwaZulu-Natal.

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