Climate and Weather

South Africa’s climatic conditions generally range from Mediterranean in the south western corner of South Africa to temperate in the interior plateau, and subtropical in the northeast. A small area in the northwest has a desert climate. Most of the country has warm, sunny days and cool nights. Rainfall generally occurs during summer (November through March), although in the southwest, around Cape Town, rainfall occurs in winter (June to August). Temperatures are influenced by variations in elevation, terrain, and ocean currents more than latitude.

Temperature and rainfall patterns vary in response to the movement of a high pressure belt that circles the globe between 25º and 30º south latitude during the winter and low-pressure systems that occur during summer. There is very little difference in average temperatures from south to north, however, in part because the inland plateau rises slightly in the northeast. For example, the average annual temperature in Cape Town is 17ºC, and in Pretoria, 17.5ºC, although these cities are separated by almost ten degrees of latitude. Maximum temperatures often exceed 32ºC in the summer, and reach 38ºC in some areas of the far north. The country’s highest recorded temperatures, close to 48ºC, have occurred in both the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.

Frost occurs in high altitudes during the winter months. The coldest temperatures have been recorded about 250 kilometers northeast of Cape Town, where the average annual minimum temperature is -6.1º C. Record snowfalls (almost fifty centimeters) occurred in July 1994 in mountainous areas bordering Lesotho.

Climatic conditions vary noticeably between east and west, largely in response to the warm Agulhas ocean current, which sweeps southward along the Indian Ocean coastline in the east for several months of the year, and the cold Benguela current, which sweeps northward along the Atlantic Ocean coastline in the west. Air temperatures in Durban, on the Indian Ocean, average nearly 6º C warmer than temperatures at the same latitude on the Atlantic Ocean coast. The effects of these two currents can be seen even at the narrow peninsula of the Cape of Good Hope, where water temperatures average 4º C higher on the east side than on the west.

Rainfall varies considerably from west to east. In the northwest, annual rainfall often remains below 200 millimeters. Much of the eastern Highveld, in contrast, receives 500 millimeters to 900 millimeters of rainfall per year; occasionally, rainfall there exceeds 2,000 millimeters. A large area of the center of the country receives about 400 millimeters of rain, on average, and there are wide variations closer to the coast. The 400-millimeter “rainfall line” has been significant because land east of the rainfall line is generally suitable for growing crops, and land west of the rainfall line, only for livestock grazing or crop cultivation on irrigated land.

Gauteng Climate

Gauteng is said to offer one of the world’s best climates: summer days are warm and wind free and winter days are crisp and clear. Johannesburg and Pretoria differ in temperature by about 2% (Pretoria being the warmer of the two).

Johannesburg Weather

Johannesburg has a delightfully mild climate, neither humid nor too hot. There are about six weeks of chill in mid-winter (from July to August) and summer offers warm sunshine followed by balmy nights (October to March). The seasons are flexible, one running into the next, and summer habitually spills over into spring and autumn. The nights can be chilly particularly in winter. Bring a jacket to wear in the evenings. The rainy season is in summer rather than winter. Rainstorms are often harsh accompanied by much thunder and lightning and occasional hail, but they are brief and followed by warm sunshine.

Pretoria Weather

Pretoria’s climate is similar to that of Johannesburg, but it lies at a somewhat lower altitude than its neighbour and its air temperatures are, on average, about two degrees higher. This is a summer-rainfall region. Between November and February summer thunderstorms produce flashes of lightning and brief but torrential afternoon downpours. Summer days are hot, though rarely to the point of discomfort.

Mpumalanga’s weather is naturally defined by it’s topography. Mpumalanga is a province of two halves, namely the high-lying grassland savannah of the highveld escarpment and the subtropical Lowveld plains. The western side of Mpumalanga, on the highveld escarpment, is like a rise of tropics, an ascent into an uncompromising range of temperatures. The west is drier, hotter and much colder than the rest of the Mpumalanga province.

Middelburg, in the heart of the highveld, experiences summer rain, and has a summer (October to February) to winter (April to August) range of around 19º C with average temperatures in the contrasting seasons, of 26º C and 8º C. Nelspruit, the capital city of Mpumalanga, lies at the edge of the Lowveld near the Kruger National Park, and enjoys relatively plentiful summer rainfall (an average of around 620 mm falls between September and March)and mild to hot subtropical conditions in the Kruger National Park.

If your trip covers the entire province, make sure you are prepared for the differences in temperatures from the Highveld to the Lowveld. Mosquitoes unfortunately also thrive in the climate of the lowlands. Please ask your pharmacist about the best anti-malaria prophylaxis. Visitors to the Mpumalanga Game Reserves should consult a local pharmacist or their family physician for advice on the best anti-malaria drug or drug combination they should take. or additional information see South Africa Malaria Risk Areas.

Finding itself at South Africa’s northernmost area and bisected by the tropic of Capricorn, visitors to Limpopo can expect sunshine, long summer afternoons and dry days for most of their stay. Pietersburg, the capital city of Limpopo, lies more or less in the centre of the province and its weather is reflective of most of it. Only the region east of the city offers markedly different climate, with most the subtropical conditions of the Lowveld providing weather more suited to dense forests.

Polokwane offers an extremely pleasant climate for most of the year. With almost all year-round sunshine, it can get rather hot in the summer months (October to March) averaging 27ºC. The lowveld is less forgiving in the swelter of summer afternoons, with towns such as Phalaborwa known to reach 45ºC. Generally, however, visitors to the Kruger Park area can expect temperatures around 30ºC in summer.

Don’t be surprised to find late afternoon growing heavy with clouds and you can expect short thunderstorms. Winter is typical of the interior highveld plateau. A sunny season of chilly, early mornings, warm middays, dry afternoons and cool to cold nights. In general the weather of Limpopo will greet you with a hospitable display of sunshine and reserve

‘Average temperature’ is the average of maximum and minimum temperatures.

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To convert to °Fahrenheit:
Multiply °C by 9, divide the answer by 5, and add 32.
E.g. 30°C = [(30×9)]/5 + 32 = 86°F

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To convert mm rainfall to inches:
Multiply mm by 0.04 = inches
Compiled by N Zambatis, Scientific Services, Kruger National Park (September 2006).

Temperatures: WB42 Climate statistics of South Africa. 1961-1990. SA Weather Bureau (unpublished).
Rainfall: N Zambatis 2003. Determinants of grass production and composition in the Kruger National Park. MSc (Agric.)
dissertation, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.