Cut-off low to bring persistent rainfall, potential flooding across South Africa

Posted on 6 February 2023 By Tsoku Maela

‘A cut-off low-pressure system is expected to develop over South Africa this week,’ according to the South African Weather Service (SAWS). SAWS also warned that this kind of weather system “is notorious for causing severe weather.”

Satellite image at 06h00 UTC on 6 February 2023 indicating abundance of tropical moisture over Namibia
and Botswana with a developing upper-air trough to the west of South Africa. Image: SAWS/Eumetsat 2023 Press release

On Wednesday, February 8th, the cut-off low is expected to begin forming over the western interior of South Africa. It will then move into the central interior, becoming quasi-stationary from Thursday to Saturday before dissipating on Sunday. SAWS noted that ‘ample tropically sourced air will be advected southwards from northern Namibia and Botswana,’ due to the presence of a tropical low called an ‘Africane.’

The slow movement of the cut-off low is predicted to result in ‘persistent rainfall for several days’ and potentially lead to ‘widespread flooding over the central, southern, and eastern parts of South Africa,’ according to SAWS.

SAWS has also provided a predicted rainfall pattern, stating that rain is expected to reach the west on Monday, February 6th, before gradually spreading eastwards on Tuesday, with the possibility of heavier showers and thundershowers over the interior of the Eastern Cape in the afternoon and evening. ‘Once the cut-off low develops on Wednesday evening, rainfall should become widespread, with the possibility of heavy falls in places, over most of the country, excluding the Western Cape and the western parts of the Northern Cape,’ said the weather service.

In addition, isolated severe thunderstorms are possible over the central and southern interior due to the cooler air associated with the weather system. The extensive cloud cover over most of South Africa is expected to bring cooler daytime temperatures as well.

However, SAWS warned that there is still a fair amount of uncertainty regarding the speed of intensification of the cut-off low, which is only expected to form on Wednesday, as well as the timing and location of any severe weather events.

‘The South African Weather Service will therefore continue to monitor any further developments relating to this weather system and will issue subsequent updates as required,’ SAWS stated.

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