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Projected Changes in Mean and Extreme Precipitation in Africa under Global Warming. Part II: East Africa

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  • 1 Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, De Bilt, Netherlands
  • | 2 Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, The Hague, Netherlands
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Abstract

Probable changes in mean and extreme precipitation in East Africa are estimated from general circulation models (GCMs) prepared for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). Bayesian statistics are used to derive the relative weights assigned to each member in the multimodel ensemble. There is substantial evidence in support of a positive shift of the whole rainfall distribution in East Africa during the wet seasons. The models give indications for an increase in mean precipitation rates and intensity of high rainfall events but for less severe droughts. Upward precipitation trends are projected from early this (twenty first) century. As in the observations, a statistically significant link between sea surface temperature gradients in the tropical Indian Ocean and short rains (October–December) in East Africa is simulated in the GCMs. Furthermore, most models project a differential warming of the Indian Ocean during boreal autumn. This is favorable for an increase in the probability of positive Indian Ocean zonal mode events, which have been associated with anomalously strong short rains in East Africa. On top of the general increase in rainfall in the tropics due to thermodynamic effects, a change in the structure of the Eastern Hemisphere Walker circulation is consistent with an increase in East Africa precipitation relative to other regions within the same latitudinal belt. A notable feature of this change is a weakening of the climatological subsidence over eastern Kenya. East Africa is shown to be a region in which a coherent projection of future precipitation change can be made, supported by physical arguments. Although the rate of change is still uncertain, almost all results point to a wetter climate with more intense wet seasons and less severe droughts.

Current affiliation: South African Weather Service, Pretoria, South Africa.

Corresponding author address: Mxolisi E. Shongwe, KNMI, P.O. Box 201, De Bilt, 3730 AE, Netherlands. E-mail: me_shongwe@yahoo.com

Abstract

Probable changes in mean and extreme precipitation in East Africa are estimated from general circulation models (GCMs) prepared for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). Bayesian statistics are used to derive the relative weights assigned to each member in the multimodel ensemble. There is substantial evidence in support of a positive shift of the whole rainfall distribution in East Africa during the wet seasons. The models give indications for an increase in mean precipitation rates and intensity of high rainfall events but for less severe droughts. Upward precipitation trends are projected from early this (twenty first) century. As in the observations, a statistically significant link between sea surface temperature gradients in the tropical Indian Ocean and short rains (October–December) in East Africa is simulated in the GCMs. Furthermore, most models project a differential warming of the Indian Ocean during boreal autumn. This is favorable for an increase in the probability of positive Indian Ocean zonal mode events, which have been associated with anomalously strong short rains in East Africa. On top of the general increase in rainfall in the tropics due to thermodynamic effects, a change in the structure of the Eastern Hemisphere Walker circulation is consistent with an increase in East Africa precipitation relative to other regions within the same latitudinal belt. A notable feature of this change is a weakening of the climatological subsidence over eastern Kenya. East Africa is shown to be a region in which a coherent projection of future precipitation change can be made, supported by physical arguments. Although the rate of change is still uncertain, almost all results point to a wetter climate with more intense wet seasons and less severe droughts.

Current affiliation: South African Weather Service, Pretoria, South Africa.

Corresponding author address: Mxolisi E. Shongwe, KNMI, P.O. Box 201, De Bilt, 3730 AE, Netherlands. E-mail: me_shongwe@yahoo.com
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