Hydrological Response and Complex Impact Pathways of the 2015/2016 El Niño in Eastern and Southern Africa

The 2015/2016 El Niño was one of the three most severe on record. El Niño is commonly linked to droughts in southern Africa and extreme rainfall in eastern Africa but no two El Niño’s are the same. We present an analysis of the impact of the 2015/2016 El Niño in eastern and southern Africa, focusing on Botswana, Kenya, and Zambia. We use field measurements and observations from satellites of rainfall, river flow, and lake levels in combination with insights from experts in each country about awareness, impacts, and responses. Our results show that drought conditions prevailed in large parts of southern Africa, reducing river runoff and contributing to unusually low lake levels in Botswana and Zambia. This led to water supply disruption in Botswana and hydroelectric load shedding in Zambia. Warnings of flood risk in Kenya were pronounced, but the El Niño did not materialize as expected in 2015/2016. Extreme rainfall was limited and caused only localized impacts. Improved understanding of the regional impact of El Niño will help to be better prepared for the next El Niño.

Siderius, C., Gannon, K. E., Ndiyoi, M., Opere, A., Batisani, N., Olago, D., Pardoe, J. and Conway, D. (2018). In: Earth’s Future. doi:10.1002/2017EF000680