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By Marizka Coetzer

Journalist


Weather woes: Farmers face double trouble as drought gives way to downpours

Is it relief or just another twist? Downpours follow drought, leaving farmers uncertain.


Mother Nature has smacked people both ways with the weather. First it was a drought and now the heavens have opened.

Experts say that although the storms will blow over by midweek, the downpours around the country will not make up for the lower-than-average rainfall caused by the El Nino phenomenon this summer.

It has devastated crops in some parts of the country. And there’s a dry winter ahead.

Laingsburg floods of 1981

Vox Weather meteorologist Michelle Cordier said the last intense scenario like this was the Laingsburg floods of 1981.

ALSO READ: Weather plays havoc on South Africa’s roads

“We are in an El Nino, which means drier and warmer conditions.

“Then you get systems like the shear layer that can bring heavy rain for a few days, but that doesn’t mean the drought is broken. The forecasts still show that we will have a drier winter,” she said.

Cordier said the intense cut-off low-pressure system responsible for the stormy weather across the country wasn’t uncommon and marked the transition from the warmer summer months to the cooler winter months.

“Cut-off lows often develop because of the changes in the atmosphere and atmospheric instability during this transitional period,” she said.

Cordier said the reason for the severe weather in the Western Cape and over the central parts of the country was the combination of cut-off lows, coupled with a ridging high-pressure system, bringing strong winds accompanied by heavy rain to the Western Cape.

ALSO READ: ‘Cape of storms’: Schools in Western Cape closed, authorities on high alert

Drastic swing in farmer’s challenges

Southern African Agri Initiative CEO François Rossouw said the shift from the El Nino-induced drought to the recent floods represents a drastic swing in challenges for farmers.

“Initially, the lack of rain severely impacted crop growth and water supplies, stressing both crops and financial stability.

“The situation is further complicated by the broader stress on the Southern African Development Community region, where only South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania are expected to produce surplus crops.

“This scarcity amplifies the pressure on farmers across the region, as they grapple with the immediate impacts of extreme weather, while also bearing the weight of broader regional food security concerns,” he said.

Rossouw said there was an urgent need for supportive policies to navigate these increasingly frequent climate extremes.

ALSO READ: Severe weather alert: Disaster crews brace for flooding, damaging storms in KZN and Cape

Interior and northern farms not yet affected

TLU chair Bennie van Zyl said farmers in the interior and northern parts of the country have not yet been affected by the storms.

“The rain at this stage can also help with underground moisture, which can help in the future and help with grass growth in winter,” he said.

“For many of our grain farmers, the rain will make no difference, but maybe for the pasture it will help.

“The wet land is a bonus for agriculture in South Africa.”

Van Zyl added a level two storm warning was not a threat to farmers.

ALSO READ: Agriculture dept assessing severity of drought on SA crop yield

Distruptive rain

Over the weekend, the South African Weather Service issued an orange level 9 warning for disruptive rain.

This followed more than 100mm of rainfall in the Overberg, Drakenstein, Stellenbosch, Breede Valley and Langeberg municipalities, with dramatic video footage of roofs being blown off, uprooting of trees and a truck blown off the highway by strong winds.

City of Tshwane emergency services department spokesperson deputy chief Charles Mabaso called on residents of Tshwane to remain alert for escalation of thunderstorms and inclement weather conditions, following a yellow level 4 warning for severe thunderstorms over some parts of the country, including the City of Tshwane.

City of Joburg’s emergency management services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said the City of Joburg EMS’ aquatic rescue unit remained on high alert in the event of flooding.