Recognizing that, over the last several years, extreme rainfall has led to hazardous stress in humans, animals, plants, and even infrastructure, in the present study, we aimed to investigate the characteristics of droughts over the Free State (FS) Province of South Africa in order to determine the future likelihood of reoccurrences of precipitation extremes using the generalized extreme value distribution (GEV) and extreme frequency analysis (EFA). In this regard, daily rainfall datasets from nine South African weather service homogenous climatic districts, spanning from 1980 to 2019, were used to compute: (a) the total annual rainfall, (b) the Effective Drought Index (EDI), and (c) the Standard Precipitation Index (SPI). The SPI was calculated for 3, 6, and 12 month accumulation periods (hereafter SPI-3, SPI-6, and SPI-12, respectively). The trend analysis results of the EDI and SPI-3, -6, and -12 showed that the Free State Province is generally negative, illustrating persistent drought. An analysis of the GEV parameters across the EDI and SPI-3, -6, and -12 values illustrated that the location, scale, and shape parameters exhibited a noticeable spatial variability across the Free State Province with the location parameter largely negative, the scale parameter largely positive, while the shape parameter pointed to an inherent Type III (Weibull) GEV distribution. In addition, the return levels for the drought/wet duration and severity of the EDI and SPI-3, -6, and -12 values generally showed increasing patterns across the corresponding return periods; the spatial contrasts were only noticeable in the return levels derived from the wet/drought duration and severity derived from SPI-3, -6, and -12 values (and not in the EDI). Further, the EFA results pointed to a noticeable spatial contrast in the return periods derived from the EDI and SPI-3, -6, and -12 values for each of the extreme precipitation categories: moderately wet, severely wet, extremely wet to moderately dry, and severely dry. Over four decades, the FS Province has generally experienced a suite of extreme precipitation categories ranging from moderately wet, severely wet, extremely wet to moderately dry, severely dry, and extremely dry conditions. Overall, the present study contributes towards implementation of effective drought early warning systems and can be used to enhance drought related policy and decision making in support of water resource management and planning in the FS Province.
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