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How has Malawi’s climate changed?

Since the Industrial Revolution, the global climate has been warming, and this is also true for Malawi. Find out more in this article.
Animals in Nyika National Park

Since the Industrial Revolution, the global climate has been warming, and on average, the Earth is around 1 degree warmer than it was. However, the warming is not evenly spread, and this is also true for Malawi.

In fact, between 1850 and 2020, the average annual temperature in Malawi increased by around 1.4 degrees Celsius with most of this warming happening in just the past two decades.

Rising temperatures

This graph shows how temperatures have changed since 1901, with the blue bars below the line showing cooler temperatures and the red bars above the line showing warmer temperatures. You can see how much the overall temperature has increased in just over 120 years!

Graph showing the temperature change in Malawi from 1901 to 2021 © Ed Hawkins (2022) CC BY-SA 4.0. (Click to expand).

This rising temperature has resulted in increasing trends in both the frequency of hot days (maximum temperature) and hot night (minimum temperature). However, the rises have been faster in the summer months (December to February) than in other seasons, and the nights are warming faster than the days.

Due to the extreme variability in Malawi’s precipitation levels year on year, it is hard to spot trends in the average precipitation levels. In some areas a slight decreasing precipitation trend is seen, but the picture is less clear in other parts of the country.

Climate shock impacts

Climate shocks in Malawi have become more frequent over the past few decades. This includes more erratic rainfall, floods, droughts, and strong winds. These extreme events have severely affected the economy and people of the country.

For example, in early 2022, three cyclones hit Madagascar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi over a very short period of time. These storms resulted in deaths, injuries and damage in the regions, mainly as a result of flooding. This caused various socio-economic impacts that are likely to have long-lasting effects.

Storm frequency

While some of these storms were likely to have been made stronger by climate change, the main issue was the high frequency of the events – the short turnaround between storms heightened damage, and increased the vulnerability of communities. In some areas, damage from the first storm meant that early warning systems were not working, and communication about the subsequent storms was not possible.

Studies have shown that global climate change has already increased the chances of more frequent storms, and shorter turnaround between storms in the region. Additionally, the increasing number of prolonged dry periods has led to the soils in the region becoming compacted (hard) which can lead to more intense flooding once the rains return. This is because water isn’t absorbed as easily by the soil, so it sits on the surface for longer.

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Climate Solutions: Malawi

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