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Interdecadal Changes in the Leading Ocean Forcing of Sahelian Rainfall Interannual Variability: Atmospheric Dynamics and Role of Multidecadal SST Background

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  • 1 Department of Geophysics and Meteorology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and Instituto de Geociencias, Universidad Complutense de Madrid–CSIC, Madrid, Spain
  • 2 Department of Geophysics and Meteorology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
  • 3 Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany
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Abstract

The atmospheric response to global sea surface temperatures is the leading cause of rainfall variability in the West African Sahel. On interannual periodicities, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, the Atlantic equatorial mode, and Mediterranean warm/cold events primarily drive variations of summer rainfall over the Sahel. Nevertheless, the rainfall response to these modes of interannual SST variability has been suggested to be unstable throughout the observational record. This study explores changes in the leading patterns of covariability between Sahel rainfall and SSTs, analyzing the dynamical mechanisms at work to explain the nonstationary relationship between anomalies in these two fields. A new network of rain gauge stations across West Africa is used for the first time to investigate these instabilities during the period 1921–2010. A hypothesis is raised that the underlying SST background seems to favor some interannual teleconnections and inhibit others in terms of the cross-equatorial SST gradients and associated impacts on the location of the intertropical convergence zone. Results of this study are relevant for improving the seasonal predictability of summer rainfall in the Sahel.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0367.s1.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Roberto Suárez-Moreno, roberto.suarez@fis.ucm.es

Abstract

The atmospheric response to global sea surface temperatures is the leading cause of rainfall variability in the West African Sahel. On interannual periodicities, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, the Atlantic equatorial mode, and Mediterranean warm/cold events primarily drive variations of summer rainfall over the Sahel. Nevertheless, the rainfall response to these modes of interannual SST variability has been suggested to be unstable throughout the observational record. This study explores changes in the leading patterns of covariability between Sahel rainfall and SSTs, analyzing the dynamical mechanisms at work to explain the nonstationary relationship between anomalies in these two fields. A new network of rain gauge stations across West Africa is used for the first time to investigate these instabilities during the period 1921–2010. A hypothesis is raised that the underlying SST background seems to favor some interannual teleconnections and inhibit others in terms of the cross-equatorial SST gradients and associated impacts on the location of the intertropical convergence zone. Results of this study are relevant for improving the seasonal predictability of summer rainfall in the Sahel.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0367.s1.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Roberto Suárez-Moreno, roberto.suarez@fis.ucm.es

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