"Splendid rains have fallen": links between El Niño and rainfall variability in the Kalahari, 1840-1900

David Nash, G.H. Endfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study uses a range of published and unpublished historical documentary sources to explore the nature of rainfall variability in the Kalahari Desert and adjacent hardveld regions of central southern Africa during the seventeen Pacific El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episodes that occurred between 1840 and 1900. Documentary data are used in two ways. First, maps of relative annual rainfall levels are presented for each of the twelve single-year and five protracted ENSO episodes during the period, in order to identify the associated inter-annual rainfall variations. These suggest that the relationship between ENSO episodes and rainfall variability identified for the twentieth century, whereby warm events are frequently preceded by wetter conditions during the austral summer prior to the event year and succeeded by drought in the following summer, has broadly held for much of the last 160 years. This is despite the long-term fluctuations in precipitation and temperature which are known to have occurred over this period. Droughts are identified following at least thirteen of the seventeen single-year and protracted ENSO episodes. Pre-ENSO wetter periods are less common, with only nine of the ENSO episodes preceded by above-normal rainfall. Second, the documentary data are analyzed in detail in order to reveal any evidence for high resolution intra-annual variations in the seasonal distribution of rainfall during ENSO events. Seasonal sequences of rainfall/drought appear to have closely followed contemporary patters, with heavy rainfall commonly occurring late in the pre-ENSO year or early in the ENSO year(s), and drought at the start of the post-ENSO year. This relationship can be seen to hold most strongly for single-year ENSO warm events and for the first year of protracted events, but rainfall conditions were more variable during the later years of protracted events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-290
Number of pages34
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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