Assessing the frequency of drought/flood severity in the Luvuvhu River catchment, Limpopo Province, South Africa

  • SM Mazibuko 1. Agricultural Research Council – Institute for Soil, Climate and Water, Private Bag X79, Pretoria 0001, South Africa; 2. Afromontane Research Unit, University of the Free State, Private Bag X13, Phuthaditjhaba, 9866, South Africa
  • G Mukwada 1. Afromontane Research Unit, University of the Free State, Private Bag X13, Phuthaditjhaba, 9866, South Africa; 2. Department of Geography & W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation of the University of Montana, USA
  • ME Moeletsi 1. Agricultural Research Council – Institute for Soil, Climate and Water, Private Bag X79, Pretoria 0001, South Africa; 2. Risks and Vulnerability Assessment Centre, University of Limpopo, Private Bag X1106, Sovenga 0727, South Africa
Keywords: Standardised Precipitation Index, drought/flood frequency, rainfall, ENSO, Oceanic Niño Index

Abstract

The Luvuvhu River catchment experiences rainfall variability with a high frequency of extremely dry and wet conditions. Understanding the frequency of drought and floods in this catchment area is important to the agriculture sector for managing the negative impacts of these natural hazards. This study was undertaken to investigate the frequency and severity of drought/floods and linkages with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. Poor and resource-limited small-scale farmers in the Luvuvhu River catchment area struggle to adjust due to decreasing crop yields and livestock mortality caused by drought and floods. Monthly rainfall data from 15 grid points (0.5° × 0.5°) was used to compute the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI) for the period between 1979 and 2016. The 3-month SPI was calculated for the December–January–February (DJF) period. The second half of the agricultural season was selected because the influence of ENSO is high during the late summer season (DJF) in the catchment. The SPI results indicate that the agricultural seasons 1982/83, 1991/92 and 2015/16 were characterised by extreme drought. Conversely, the SPI values also show that the wettest seasons were recorded in 1998/99 and 1999/00. The catchment experiences a high frequency of moderate to severe drought in the north and north-eastern parts. Spatially, the occurrence of moderate to severe dry conditions covers large areas in the north and south-western parts. Severe to extreme wet conditions cover large areas in the north and south-eastern parts of the catchment. The SST index (Niño 3.4) shows a strong influence on rainfall variability in the catchment, resulting in either dry or wet conditions. Therefore, this study recommends further research focusing on more climatic modes that influence rainfall variability, as well as further development of drought and flood forecasting to improve farmers’ adaptations options and reliability of weather forecasts used as a tool to manage crop production.

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Published
2021-04-29
Section
Research paper