Hotter weather and a recurring drought in store for Cape Town soon, experts warn

People on Clifton 4th Beach escaping the intense heat in Cape Town. Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

People on Clifton 4th Beach escaping the intense heat in Cape Town. Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 21, 2024


If you think the 35ºC heat on Friday was hot, then it is likely you will be hopping from the frying pan into the fire soon, if the warnings of climate change experts are anything to go by.

The experts are warning that hotter weather and a recurring drought will be in store for Cape Town soon because of the ongoing El Niño phenomenon.

Christopher Trisos, a climate change expert at the University of Cape Town (UCT) said this was the hottest El Niño on record.

“That is because it is occurring on top of global heating caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas. In addition to extreme hot weather, El Niño has been associated with drier conditions over parts of Southern Africa.”

Glen Tyler, from, agrees and said we were entering a El Niño year with drier conditions.

“We are entering a El Niño year that has been announced which will bring drier conditions for the next years that have been forecaste. Essentially in South Africa (according to climate scientists), climate change will make South Africa a drier country. El Niño will peak in that drying phenomena.”

Tyler said we were coming out of a La Niña year, which has resulted in a lot of rain and wet weather. “We've seen some of that in KwaZulu-Natal the climate system is a complex system and El Niño/La Niña have exacerbated these cycles.

“What is clear is that burning fossil fuels is wreaking havoc with our climate and is leading to very severe impacts for our people, but in the form of floods and droughts.”

Trisos said that with increased climate change Cape Town would see a more severe drought than the last one in 2018/19.

“With climate change increasing, the chances of more severe and intense droughts for the Western Cape will increase. We could have a drought worse than the last one,” he said.

Tyler said the world was on a trajectory showing that these events were increasing.

“Yes, we will see more impacts, climate impacts and unless we address the climate crises quickly, people will be impacted by this, unfortunately.”

Judy Scott-Goldman from Extinction Rebellion said it was considered unequivocal that the climate crisis was increasing in intensity.

“This does not mean that every extreme weather event was influenced by climate change. However, the WWA states: ‘We know that every heatwave in the world is now made stronger and more likely to happen because of human-caused climate change.'”

In the last drought in Cape Town, politicians and officials were scrambling to figure out how to avoid Day

Zero when taps would have run dry. The City tried to mitigate it via the acquisition of water desalination plants, aquifers, ground water and neighbourhood springs like the one in Newlands. And than the rains came.

But has the City learnt from the last drought? Trisos said the City has enough available information to better prepare.

“The City has some of the best climate change information available to it. That said, there is a massive amount of work that needs to be done to make Cape Town more adapted to climate change, especially for the most vulnerable in informal settlements.

“Drought, extreme heat, wildfire, and flooding are all important climate hazards for Cape Town to prepare better for. Cape Town also has to prepare for sea level rise and storm surges that damage coastal property and infrastructure,” Trisos said.

Tyler said valuable lessons were learnt not only by the City but by citizens who bandied together to look after each other.

“Many of these initiatives that started during the drought then helped when Covid-19 hit, showing community resilience is incredibly important.”

He said there was a good understanding in the City of climate change with the risks and opportunities it represents.

Scott-Goldman addressed their challenges in their Climate Change Strategic document.

“The City is anticipating further drought and its second strategic area is water security and drought readiness. The City is devoting a lot of attention to avoiding a repeat of the threat to its water supply.”

She said the City's climate change strategy indicates that one of the climate changes that the City is facing is a significant decrease in mean annual rainfall, along with an increase in wind strength, a significant increase in mean annual temperature and increased maximum temperatures, more high heat days and more frequent and intense heat waves.

“Increased heat, higher winds and less rain are a dangerous combination that will increase fire risk in Cape Town. In December, fires at multiple points between Glencairn and close to Cape Point there was concern about winds spreading the fire and the danger to helicopters when they fly in high winds.”

“Not to mention the tremendous cost of the fire fighting. I heard figures of R50 000 an hour for the older helicopters and R100 000 an hour for the more modern helicopters.”

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, who is currently in Washington DC to try and woo investors for among others, his climate change initiatives said it is one of the priorities of his future planning and resilience department.

“We have embarked on huge projects to upgrade our wastewater capacity and deliver new sources of fresh water to our city so that we can can protect ourselves against severe drought that we had four or five years ago,” he said among others.