South African Weather
South Africa’s climatic conditions range from Mediterranean in the south-western corner to temperate in the interior plateau, and subtropical in the north-east. Most of the country has warm, sunny days and cool nights. Rainfall generally occurs during summer (November through March), although in the Western Cape 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. 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.
South Africa has a subtropical location, moderated by ocean on three sides and the altitude of the interior plateau, which all account for the warm temperate conditions. Temperatures in South Africa tend to be lower than in other countries at similar latitudes, such as Australia, due mainly to greater elevation above sea level. 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.
Over much of South Africa, summer (mid-October to mid-February) is characterised by hot, sunny weather, often with afternoon thunderstorms that clear quickly, leaving a warm, earthy, uniquely African smell in the air. The Western Cape, with its Mediterranean climate is the exception, getting its rain in winter. Autumn, or Fall (mid-February to April) offers in some ways the best weather. Very little rain falls over the whole country, and it is warm but not too hot, getting colder as the season progresses. In Cape Town, autumn is amazing, with hot sunny days and warm, balmy nights. Winter in South Africa (May to July) is characterised in the higher-lying areas of the interior plateau by dry, sunny, crisp days and cold nights. The hot, humid KwaZulu-Natal coast, as well as the Lowveld (lower-lying areas) of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, offer fantastic winter weather with sunny, warmish days and virtually no wind or rain. Nowhere in South Africa is spring (August to mid-October) more spectacular than in the Cape provinces, where small, otherwise insignificant plants cover the plains in colourful carpets of flowers. What time of the year would be best for you to travel would depend on what you want to do. The best times for game viewing are the winter and spring seasons, from May until October. The wale watching season is from June until October. Flower time is in August, September and October. Beach weather is fine in KwaZulu Natal almost year round. In Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces with their very mild winters, activities are not so time dependent.