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SA weather service says El Niño “fast decaying”

Chances of “above normal” rainfall could help restore soil moisture levels in parts of the maize belt.

South Africa’s staple maize crop will likely be around 30 percent lower this season because of the drought.Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The winter forecast for drought-hit South Africa shows the rapid fading of an El Niño weather pattern that scorched key crops but the overall picture is increasingly uncertain, the national weather service said in its latest monthly forecast.

"Current observations still show the fast decay of El Niño... However, the current forecast is clouded by growing uncertainty," the weather service said in the bulletin, which provides forecasts for the next five months.

It said despite the uncertainty, there were "chances for above-normal rainfall conditions over the western and northeastern parts of the country for the winter season."

This could help restore soil moisture levels in parts of the maize belt before the summer planting season and bring welcome rainfall to parched grazing lands.

South Africa's staple maize crop will likely be around 30 percent lower this season because of the drought.

The El Niño, a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years with global consequences, was the key driver behind the drought, which saw the lowest rainfall in South Africa since records began in 1904.

The weather service said there is a possibility for the development of a weak La Nina toward late spring and summer.

La Niña typically represents periods of cooler ocean surface temperatures across the east-central Equatorial Pacific and usually has the opposite impact of El Niño, and so it could bring above-average rainfall.

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