Image from the Daily Maverick.

Extreme Climate Events 

Research Alliance

El Niño 2023 Summit

(read about the aims and goals)

The strongest seasonally varying ocean-atmosphere signal known is the El Niño Southern Oscillation or ENSO signal (also known as the El Niño and La Niña). These are names given a particular state of the ocean-atmospheric configuration in the Pacific Ocean region, at various thresholds, in a continuously oscillating system. When the system reaches certain thresholds, we may declare that the system is in an El Niño state or La Niña state or a neutral state along a gradient from strong to weak. The extreme state of this system is known to impact global weather. The seasonal climate in southern Africa responds to this signal with generally warmer and drier conditions associated with the El Niño state and cooler wetter conditions in the La Niña state. El Niños have in the past been associated with record heat and droughts in the summer rainfall region, while La Niñas have been associated with flooding.  

Researchers in South Africa and around the globe have indicated that the regular monitoring of the ENSO system suggests that a strong El Niño is currently developing in 2023. This is the first such event (following three years of a La Niña phase) since the 2018/19 and 2015/16 events which had a serious impact on our country with significant droughts in various summer rainfall locations. This comes on top of reports of unprecedented global sea surface temperatures and continuously rising average atmospheric temperatures. Should this El Niño manifest as projected, we should expect that this will have significant impact on the coming summer climate and weather in southern Africa. 

We have called this meeting to share information with affected sectors, businesses, government departments and any stakeholders who seek to understand the basics of the climate predictions, and to consider how this may impact them. We aim to raise awareness of the pending climate anomaly and start the process of gathering information and information requirements in anticipation of its possible impact across the country. This will be followed up with further briefings as we learn more when we approach the summer rainfall season. We will invite a selected number of experts to present some information, and we will allow for some discussion, questions and answers. This may lead to a follow up event depending on how the predicted El Niño will develop. The questions we will address (along with those from the delegates) include:

What is the likelihood of this El Nino manifesting?

When and where may we see impacts?

How severe may the event be and how may impacts manifest?

How would various sectors be affected?

What plans are in place to deal with this and potential resulting emergencies?

What economic impacts could we anticipate?

How may this event impact agriculture and food security?

What does the future look like in terms of ENSO?

Attendance of this event is free, and to participate please register here.

A follow up meeting will be organized to assess the development of this climate event.

A finger lunch will be provided for those present (max 50 pax).

For further information please contact Dr Neville Sweijd ( / 0829689660)

Video recording of the meeting and link to presentations

Media interview.  Media Statement.


The recent events associated with the cut-off low pressure system in KwaZulu Natal has focused minds on the potential impact of such extreme climate events. Many other climate-attributed events such as the Knysna Fires, the Western Cape Day Zero drought, the persistent Eastern Cape Drought, the 2017 malaria outbreak, the 2021 Table Mountain Fire, flooding in Limpopo, heat waves in Gauteng, are examples of the kinds of extreme climate events experienced in South Africa. Indeed, globally we have seen what appears to be a trend in such events if we consider the Australian wildfire and flooding events, the flooding in Pakistan, heatwaves and wildfires in Europe and north America, and the Asian subcontinent, flooding, intense tropical storms and mudslides in central and South America.

There is growing interest and investment in research on the extreme climate events given their prominence and impact on South African society. This area of research presents a very important element of designing responses to climate change as impacts.  ECE trends, their attribution and impact need to be clearly and strategically addressed. It is also important to reconcile the relationship between weather scale, seasonal and climate change scale impacts. Ultimately, climate comprises the average of weather and hence climate change manifests on different scales in trends of weather and climate parameters, trends in the distribution of averages (climate zones), trends in seasonal characteristics and onset, and the intensity (frequency, strength, duration and seasonality) of extreme weather/climate events.

ACCESS is has initiated discussion with the research community on how to better organize our work on a national scale in this area. This process is open to anyone who is interested to participate. Register for news.

ECERA Documents and records.

ECERA Foundation meeting files (Meeting transcript, ECERA conference proposal, slides and minutes) 

Video Recording of the meeting.