Botswana's climate is semi-arid. Though it is hot and dry for much of the year, there is a rainy season, which runs through the summer months. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. Often a heavy downpour may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine so that a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground but is lost to evaporation and transpiration.
'Pula', one of the most frequently heard words in Botswana, is not only the name of Botswana's currency, but also the Setswana word for rain. So much of what takes place in Botswana relies on this essential, frequently scarce commodity.
The summer season begins in November and ends in March. It usually brings very high temperatures. However, summer is also the rainy season, and cloud coverage and rain can cool things down considerably, although only usually for a short period of time.
The winter season begins in May and ends in August. This is also the dry season when virtually no rainfall occurs. Winter days are invariably sunny and cool to warm; however, evening and night temperatures can drop below freezing point in some areas, especially in the southwest.
The in-between periods - April/early May and September/October - still tend to be dry, but the days are cooler than in summer and the nights are warmer than in winter.
The rainy season is in the summer, with October and April being transitional months. January and February are generally regarded as the peak months. The mean annual rainfall varies from a maximum of over 650mm in the extreme northeast area of the Chobe District to a minimum of less than 250mm in the extreme southwest part of Kgalagadi District (see the map for districts). Almost all rainfall occurs during the summer months while the winter period accounts for less than 10 percent of the annual rainfall. Generally, rainfall decreases in amount and increases in variability the further west and south you go.
Average minimum and maximum rainfall
Summer days are hot, especially in the weeks that precede the coming of the cooling rains, and shade temperatures rise to the 38°C mark and higher, reaching a blistering 44°C on rare occasions. Winters are clear-skied and bone-dry, the air seductively warm during the daylight hours but, because there is no cloud cover, cold at night and in the early mornings. Sometimes bitterly so - frost is common and small quantities of water can freeze.
Average minimum and maximum temperatures
In summer during the morning period humidity ranges from 60 to 80% and drops to between 30 and 40% in the afternoon. In winter humidity is considerably less and can vary between 40 and 70% during the morning and fall to between 20 and 30% in the afternoon.
For tourists, the best visiting months are from April through to October - in terms of both weather and game viewing. It is during this period that the wildlife of the great spaces gather around what water there is - the natural waterholes and the borehole-fed dams - and are at their most visible.
Climate perks - month by month
Middle of the rainy season - many afternoon thunderstorms
Daytime temp: 30
Night time temp: 20
- Breeding time for most species of birds
- Plenty of wildflowers and green foliage
- Game viewing: average. Predators chasing young prey
- Ideal month for photographers that want brilliant colours
Rains continue with afternoon thunderstorms but there can be wet and dry spells during this month
Daytime temp: 30
Night time temp: 20
- Bats are active and make many noises as they eat and this is when the figs ripen
- Many water lilies are about as well as noisy red frogs
- All plants and vegetation are thriving from the rainfalls
- This is the month when butterflies, frogs and birds are most active
- Giant bullfrogs emerge from hibernation to take part in the feeding frenzies
This is when the migration starts. Temperatures are still warm but there is less rain.
- View hundreds of wildebeest and zebra moving through the marshlands
- Birds migrate to the north and send out their last calls
- Moremi and Marula trees blossom which attracts the elephants
- Male Impala start to attract female Impala
This is when the first sure signs of the season change appear
- Cooler mornings with humidity so there is often mist
- Impala noises continue as the males clash and display dominance
- Baboons are seen with the impala as they help with the safety of the antelope
- All the fruit is ripening
- Reptiles start to breed and feed as they anticipate the dry weather ahead
Temperatures are still decreasing slightly and jackets are recommended for night activities
- Buffalo begin to group up in herds and make regular visits to the watering holes
- Elephants are breeding and also make trips to the watering holes
- The green colours start to fade and turn into the more dull colours of a dry season
- Predators start to thrive again as their colours allow them to blend better
- Migratory birds start back to their feeding and breeding grounds
It is now winter and it can be as cold as 5 degrees at night time. It is also usually dusty.
- African Wild Dogs begin to search for dens and are easy viewing for the next 3 months or so
- By this time most trees have lost their eaves and there is little green left
- Animals now concentrate on the watering holes as the rest of the land starts to dry up
This is when you will experience the more typical Botswana weather which is sunny and clear.
- The Okavango Delta starts to flood as the waters from the Angolan Highlands finally reach the area
- As the delta fills, moroko rides and boat trips offer access to areas that were previously inaccessible
- Soft light in the mornings and evenings along with the dust provide great photo opportunities
The temperatures are starting to get warmer.
- The herds get larger
- Tension builds between the herds as the space around the watering holes becomes more limited
- There area is fill of elephant sounds
- The bush is quite bare and dusty
- Herons and stalks start to build nests
- The floods have gone as far as they can and extend as far as Maun
The temperatures rise rapidly and the skies are clear.
- Elephant and Buffalo concentrations remain the same
- Predators are still busy, especially the lions
- Bee-eaters and other birds return from the winter grounds
- Water levels in the delta start to decrease
- Fish become active again
Temperatures start to rise quite a substantial amount.
- Morning game drives begin very early to avoid the heat of the day
- The predators are still at it
- The fish have frenzies and the annual catfish population has risen
- The birds full the breeding grounds in their thousands
Temperatures are high during the day and during the night. Rains start halfway through the month.
- Game viewing continues to improve
- The antelopes begin to give birth
- Predators seek the young as they are easy targets
- Trees start to grow and there is more green grass
Rains become more frequent with afternoon thunderstorms.
- By now the Impala have all given birth and the wildebeest will be finished within a few weeks
- Predators struggle to make catch as they stand out among the green grass
- All the birds have returned