Diversity and Ranking of ENSO Impacts along the Eastern Seaboard of Subtropical Southern Africa

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Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute

El Nino–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the dominant mode of interannual climate variability over southern Africa during the summer half of the year. It is widely accepted that El Nino (La Nina) core summers (December–February) are typically warmer and drier (cooler and wetter) than average over the region. Although it is recognized that the ENSO impacts are nonlinear and not all events result in the expected impact, little or no work has been carried out to systematically explore the diversity and ranking of these impacts. Here, parameter-space bubble plots involving various rainfall and temperature metrics are used to study how such impacts vary over the eastern seaboard of subtropical southern Africa to determine the ENSO events with the strongest impacts, and to identify the most anomalous ENSO cases. Comparison of neutral summers experiencing the strongest droughts/floods with ENSO impacts is also performed. These metrics are designed to be applicable to the interests of farmers and other user groups. It is found that 1987/1988 (2017/2018) was the most unusual El Nino (La Nina) and neutral 1981/1982 had a severe drought, worse than occurs during most El Ninos. These unusual cases are explained in terms of regional circulation and SST anomalies. Implications of the results for seasonal forecasting and for farmers are discussed.