The influence of atmospheric rivers over the South Atlantic on winter rainfall in South Africa

A climatology of atmospheric rivers (ARs) impinging on the west coast of South Africa (298–34.58S) during the austral winter months (April–September) was developed for the period 1979–2014 using an automated detection algorithm and two reanalysis products as input. The two products show relatively good agreement, with 10–15 persistent ARs (lasting 18 h or longer) occurring on average per winter and nearly two-thirds of these systems occurring poleward of 358S. The relationship between persistent AR activity and winter rainfall is demonstrated using South African Weather Service rainfall data. Most stations positioned in areas of high topography contained the highest percentage of rainfall contributed by persistent ARs, whereas stations downwind, to the east of the major topographic barriers, had the lowest contributions. Extreme rainfall days in the region are also ranked by their magnitude and spatial extent. The results suggest that although persistent ARs are important contributors to heavy rainfall events, they are not necessarily a prerequisite. It is found that around 70% of the top 50 daily winter rainfall extremes in South Africa were in some way linked to ARs (both persistent and nonpersistent). Overall, the findings of this study support similar investigations on ARs in the North Atlantic and North Pacific.