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Water SA

On-line version ISSN 1816-7950
Print version ISSN 0378-4738


DU PLESSIS, JA  and  BURGER, GJ. Investigation into increasing short-duration rainfall intensities in South Africa. Water SA [online]. 2015, vol.41, n.3, pp.416-424. ISSN 1816-7950.

Extreme storms in South Africa and specifically in the Western Cape have been responsible for widespread destruction to property and infrastructure, even leading to displacement and death. The occurrences of these storms have been increasingly linked to human-induced climate change that is expected to cause more variable weather. Studies on climate circulation models for future climate conditions project that rainfall in the Western Cape and wider South African region is to become more intense and extreme. Sub-daily rainfall for 3 stations in the Western Cape and 4 stations in the rest of South Africa were analysed in order to determine if any trends towards more intense and extreme rainfall are observed and whether the trend is unique to the Western Cape or indicates a wider trend. This study explores this expectation by using historical short-duration rainfall (less than 24 h) for 7 stations in the Western Cape and South African region. Digitised autographic and automatic weather station 5-min rainfall data were combined to extend the effective record length. Both the magnitude and frequency of occurrence of rainfall events were analysed to assess if rainfall intensities are showing any evidence of increasing over time. For the magnitude of rainfall events, extreme value theory was applied to non-stationary sequences, using both a parametric and non-parametric approach for both event maxima and peaks over threshold modelling. The frequency analysis entailed measuring the frequency of exceedance of rainfall events over a certain threshold value. Both the magnitude and frequency analysis indicated that the combination of the two record types influenced the results of some of the stations, while the others showed no consistent evidence of changing rainfall intensities. This led to the conclusion that, from the available observed short-duration record, no evidence was found of trends or indications of changes in rainfall intensities.

Keywords : climate change; short duration rainfall; extreme value theory; non-stationary.

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