The topography of South Africa (SA) shows complex variations and is one the main factors that determine the daily weather patterns and climate characteristics. It affects for example temperature, winds and rainfall (intensity and distribution). Mesoscale numerical weather prediction (NWP) models are used to simulate atmospheric motions with high horizontal grid resolution using appropriate cumulus parameterisation schemes. They also allow users to investigate the effects of topography and surface heating on the development of convective systems.
The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model was applied over the complex terrain of SA to simulate extreme weather events and evaluate the influence of topography and grid resolution on the accuracy of weather simulations. This includes heavy precipitation event that lead to floods over Limpopo region of SA which was caused by the tropical depression Dando for the period 16 -18 January 2012; the heat wave events over Limpopo region for the period 22-26 October 2011 and also over Cape region for the period 15-18 January 2012. The Grell-Devenyi Ensemble (GDE) cumulus parameterization scheme was applied. The WRF model was run at a horizontal resolution of 9 km with 3 km nests, one over Limpopo and another over Cape region respectively. A total of 210 South African Weather Service (SAWS) synoptic stations data were used to verify the model, with 37 stations located over Limpopo and 88 over Cape region. The WRF model simulations are able to capture the spatial and temporal distribution of the heat wave over Limpopo and Cape regions respectively. The model verification with observational data showed that the performance statistics are in the expected range. The experiments without topography give unrealistic verification scores. The increase of model grid resolution from 9 to 3 km improved the spatial and temporal distribution and performance statistics. The above findings are in general similar for the two heat wave events, although the influence of topography over Cape region is not too pronounced. This can be attributed to different topographic variations over the Cape region as compared to the Limpopo region.
The WRF model captured well the spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall patterns; verification statistics shows over-prediction of its intensity in simulation with topography. The simulation without topography shows unrealistic space and intensity of rain distribution. An increase in model grid resolution from 9 to 3 km shows improved spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall. The importance of high grid resolution and the use of non-hydrostatic equations are confirmed by the analysis of the vertical velocity distribution and moisture fluxes.
The overall findings proved that topography plays a major role to weather and climate over SA. The high grid resolution allows for a better topography representation and capturing convective activities by the use of nonhydrostatic approximations. Therefore the WRF model proved to be useful forecasting tool for weather and climate simulations and can be used for operational weather forecasting over South Africa.