Changes in climate variability and, in particular, changes in extreme climate events are likely to be of far more significance for environmentally vulnerable regions than changes in the mean state. It is generally accepted that sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) play an important role in modulating rainfall variability. Consequently, SSTs can be prescribed in global and regional climate modelling in order to study the physical mechanisms behind rainfall and its extremes. Using a satellite-based daily rainfall historical data set, this paper describes the main patterns of rainfall variability over southern Africa, identifies the dates when extreme rainfall occurs within these patterns, and shows the effect of resolution in trying to identify the location and intensity of SST anomalies associated with these extremes in the Atlantic and southwest Indian Ocean. Derived from a Principal Component Analysis (PCA), the results also suggest that, for the spatial pattern accounting for the highest amount of variability, extremes extracted at a higher spatial resolution do give a clearer indication regarding the location and intensity of anomalous SST regions. As the amount of variability explained by each spatial pattern defined by the PCA decreases, it would appear that extremes extracted at a lower resolution give a clearer indication of anomalous SST regions. Copyright © 2006 Royal Meteorological Society.