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Seasonal Predictability and Spatial Coherence of Rainfall Characteristics in the Tropical Setting of Senegal

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  • 1 International Research Institute for Climate and Society, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Palisades, New York
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Abstract

This study examines space–time characteristics of seasonal rainfall predictability in a tropical region by analyzing observed data and model simulations over Senegal. Predictability is analyzed in terms of the spatial coherence of observed interannual variability at the station scale, and within-ensemble coherence of general circulation model (GCM) simulations with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) prescribed. Seasonal mean rainfall anomalies are decomposed in terms of daily rainfall frequency and daily mean intensity. The observed spatial coherence is computed from a 13-station network of daily rainfall during the July–September season 1961–98 in terms of (i) interannual variability of a standardized anomaly index (i.e., the average of the normalized anomalies of each station), (ii) the external variance (i.e., the fraction of common variance among stations), and (iii) the number of spatiotemporal degrees of freedom. Spatial coherence of interannual anomalies across stations is found to be much stronger for seasonal rainfall amount and daily occurrence frequency, compared with daily mean intensity of rainfall. Combinatorial analysis of the station observations suggests that, for occurrence and seasonal amount, the empirical number of spatial degrees of freedom is largely insensitive to the number of stations considered, and is between 3 and 4 for Senegal. For daily mean intensity, by contrast, each station is found to convey almost independent information, and the number of degrees of freedom would be expected to increase for a denser network of stations. The GCM estimates of potential predictability and skill associated with the SST forcing are found to be remarkably consistent with those inferred from the observed spatial coherence: there is a moderate-to-strong skill at reproducing the interannual variations of seasonal amounts and rainfall occurrence, whereas the skill is weak for the mean intensity of rainfall. Over Senegal during July–September, it is concluded that (i) regional-scale seasonal amount and rainfall occurrence frequency are predictable from SSTs, (ii) daily mean intensity of rainfall is spatially incoherent and largely unpredictable at the regional scale, and (iii) point-score estimates of seasonal rainfall predictability and skill are subject to large sampling variability.

* Additional affiliation: UFR des Sciences Géographiques et de l’Aménagement, Université d’Aix-Marseille I, and CEREGE, UMR-6635, CNRS, France

Corresponding author address: Vincent Moron, CEREGE, UMR 6635, Europôle Méditerranéen de l’Arbois, BP 80, 13545 Aix en Provence, France. Email: moron@cerege.fr

Abstract

This study examines space–time characteristics of seasonal rainfall predictability in a tropical region by analyzing observed data and model simulations over Senegal. Predictability is analyzed in terms of the spatial coherence of observed interannual variability at the station scale, and within-ensemble coherence of general circulation model (GCM) simulations with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) prescribed. Seasonal mean rainfall anomalies are decomposed in terms of daily rainfall frequency and daily mean intensity. The observed spatial coherence is computed from a 13-station network of daily rainfall during the July–September season 1961–98 in terms of (i) interannual variability of a standardized anomaly index (i.e., the average of the normalized anomalies of each station), (ii) the external variance (i.e., the fraction of common variance among stations), and (iii) the number of spatiotemporal degrees of freedom. Spatial coherence of interannual anomalies across stations is found to be much stronger for seasonal rainfall amount and daily occurrence frequency, compared with daily mean intensity of rainfall. Combinatorial analysis of the station observations suggests that, for occurrence and seasonal amount, the empirical number of spatial degrees of freedom is largely insensitive to the number of stations considered, and is between 3 and 4 for Senegal. For daily mean intensity, by contrast, each station is found to convey almost independent information, and the number of degrees of freedom would be expected to increase for a denser network of stations. The GCM estimates of potential predictability and skill associated with the SST forcing are found to be remarkably consistent with those inferred from the observed spatial coherence: there is a moderate-to-strong skill at reproducing the interannual variations of seasonal amounts and rainfall occurrence, whereas the skill is weak for the mean intensity of rainfall. Over Senegal during July–September, it is concluded that (i) regional-scale seasonal amount and rainfall occurrence frequency are predictable from SSTs, (ii) daily mean intensity of rainfall is spatially incoherent and largely unpredictable at the regional scale, and (iii) point-score estimates of seasonal rainfall predictability and skill are subject to large sampling variability.

* Additional affiliation: UFR des Sciences Géographiques et de l’Aménagement, Université d’Aix-Marseille I, and CEREGE, UMR-6635, CNRS, France

Corresponding author address: Vincent Moron, CEREGE, UMR 6635, Europôle Méditerranéen de l’Arbois, BP 80, 13545 Aix en Provence, France. Email: moron@cerege.fr

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