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Mimi Stith, Alessandra Giannini, John del Corral, Susana Adamo, and Alex de Sherbinin

Abstract

A spatial analysis is presented that aims to synthesize the evidence for climate and social dimensions of the “regreening” of the Sahel. Using an independently constructed archival database of donor-funded interventions in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal in response to the persistence of drought in the 1970s and 1980s, the spatial distribution of these interventions is examined in relation to population density and to trends in precipitation and in greenness. Three categories of environmental change are classified: 1) regions at the northern grassland/shrubland edge of the Sahel where NDVI varies interannually with precipitation, 2) densely populated cropland regions of the Sahel where significant trends in precipitation and NDVI decouple at interannual time scales, and 3) regions at the southern savanna edge of the Sahel where NDVI variation is independent of precipitation. Examination of the spatial distribution of environmental change, number of development projects, and population density brings to the fore the second category, covering the cropland areas where population density and regreening are higher than average. While few, regions in this category coincide with emerging hotspots of regreening in northern Burkina Faso and southern central Niger known from case study literature. In examining the impact of efforts to rejuvenate the Sahelian environment and livelihoods in the aftermath of the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s against the backdrop of a varying and uncertain climate, the transition from desertification to regreening discourses is framed in the context of adaptation to climate change.

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Elinor R. Martin and Chris Thorncroft

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African easterly waves (AEWs) can act as seed disturbances for tropical cyclones (TCs) in the Atlantic, and changes in future AEW activity may have important consequences for development of TCs. The simulation of AEWs was investigated using output from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) suite of experiments, including coupled historical and future simulations and atmosphere only (AMIP) simulations. Large biases exist in the simulation of low- (850 hPa) and midlevel (700 hPa) eddy kinetic energy (EKE, a proxy for AEW activity) in AMIP and historical simulations. CMIP5 models simulate excessive EKE and deficient rainfall south of 17°N. The same biases exist in historical and AMIP models and are not a consequence of errors in sea surface temperatures. The models also struggle to accurately couple AEWs and rainfall, with little improvement from CMIP3 models. CMIP5 models are unable to propagate AEWs across the coast and into the Atlantic, which is shown to be related to the resolution of the Guinea Highlands. Future projections of the annual cycle of AEW activity show a reduction in late spring and early summer and a large increase between July and October that is consistent with rainfall projections in the Sahel, but large differences exists in future projections between high- and low-resolution models. The simulation of AEWs is challenging for CMIP5 models and must be further diagnosed in order to accurately predict future TC activity and rainfall in the Sahel.

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M. Issa Lélé, Lance M. Leslie, and Peter J. Lamb

Abstract

The major objective of this study is to re-evaluate the ocean–land transport of moisture for rainfall in West Africa using 1979–2008 NCEP–NCAR reanalysis data. The vertically integrated atmospheric water vapor flux for the surface–850 hPa is calculated to account for total low-level moisture flux contribution to rainfall over West Africa. Analysis of mean monthly total vapor fluxes shows a progressive penetration of the flux into West Africa from the south and west. During spring (April–June), the northward flux forms a “moisture river” transporting moisture current into the Gulf of Guinea coast. In the peak monsoon season (July–September), the southerly transport weakens, but westerly transport is enhanced and extends to 20°N owing to the strengthening West African jet off the west coast. Mean seasonal values of total water vapor flux components across boundaries indicate that the zonal component is the largest contributor to mean moisture transport into the Sahel, while the meridional transport contributes the most over the Guinea coast. For the wet years of the Sahel rainy season (July–September), active anomalies are displaced farther north compared to the long-term average. This includes the latitude of the intertropical front (ITF), the extent of moisture flux, and the zone of strong moisture flux convergence, with an enhanced westerly flow. For the dry Sahel years, the opposite patterns are observed. Statistically significant positive correlations between the zonal moisture fluxes and Sudan–Sahel rainfall totals are most pronounced when the zonal fluxes lead by 1–4 pentads. However, although weak, they still are statistically significant at lags 3 and 4 for meridional moisture fluxes.

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Wassila M. Thiaw and Vadlamani B. Kumar

Abstract

Drought is one of the leading causes of death in Africa because of its impact on access to sanitary water and food. This challenge has mobilized the international community to develop famine early warning systems (FEWS) to bring safe food and water to populations in need. Over the past several decades, much attention has focused on advance risk planning in agriculture and water and, more recently, on health. These initiatives require updates of weather and climate outlooks. This paper describes the active role of NOAA’s African Desk in FEWS and in enhancing the capacity of African institutions to improve forecasts. The African Desk was established in 1994 to provide services to U.S. agencies and African institutions. Emphasis is on the operational products across all time scales from weather to climate forecasts in support of humanitarian relief programs. Tools to provide access to real-time weather and climate information to the public are described. These include the downscaling of the U.S. National Multimodel Ensemble (NMME) to improve seasonal forecasts. The subseasonal time scale has emerged as extremely important to many socioeconomic sectors. Drawing from advances in numerical models, operational subseasonal forecasts are included in the African Desk product suite. These capabilities along with forecast skill assessment, verifications, and regional hazards outlooks for food security are discussed. Finally, the African Desk residency training program, an effort aimed at enhancing the capacity of African institutions to improve forecasts, and supported by this seamless approach to operational forecasting, is described.

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Zewdu T. Segele, Michael B. Richman, Lance M. Leslie, and Peter J. Lamb

Abstract

An ensemble-based multiple linear regression technique is developed to assess the predictability of regional and national June–September (JJAS) anomalies and local monthly rainfall totals for Ethiopia. The ensemble prediction approach captures potential predictive signals in regional circulations and global sea surface temperatures (SSTs) two to three months in advance of the monsoon season. Sets of 20 potential predictors are selected from visual assessments of correlation maps that relate rainfall with regional and global predictors. Individual predictors in each set are utilized to initialize specific forward stepwise regression models to develop ensembles of equal number of statistical model estimates, which allow quantifying prediction uncertainties related to individual predictors and models. Prediction skill improvement is achieved through error minimization afforded by the ensemble.

For retroactive validation (RV), the ensemble predictions reproduce well the observed all-Ethiopian JJAS rainfall variability two months in advance. The ensemble mean prediction outperforms climatology, with mean square error reduction (SSClim) of 62%. The skill of the prediction remains high for leave-one-out cross validation (LOOCV), with the observed–predicted correlation r (SSClim) being +0.81 (65%) for 1970–2002. For tercile predictions (below, near, and above normal), the ranked probability skill score is 0.45, indicating improvement compared to climatological forecasts. Similarly high prediction skill is found for local prediction of monthly rainfall total at Addis Ababa (r = +0.72) and Combolcha (r = +0.68), and for regional prediction of JJAS standardized rainfall anomalies for northeastern Ethiopia (r = +0.80). Compared to the previous generation of rainfall forecasts, the ensemble predictions developed in this paper show substantial value to benefit society.

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John G. Dwyer, Michela Biasutti, and Adam H. Sobel

Abstract

Models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) project changes to the seasonality of both tropical sea surface temperature (SST) and precipitation when forced by an increase in greenhouse gases. Nearly all models project an amplification and a phase delay of the annual cycle for both quantities, indicating a greater annual range and extrema reached later in the year. The authors investigate the nature of the seasonal precipitation changes in AGCM experiments forced by SST perturbations, which represent idealizations of the changes in annual mean, amplitude, and phase as simulated by CMIP5 models. A uniform SST warming is sufficient to force both amplification and a delay of the annual cycle of precipitation. The amplification is due to an increase in the annual mean vertical water vapor gradient, while the delay is affected by changes in the seasonality of the circulation. A budget analysis of this simulation reveals a large degree of similarity with the CMIP5 results. In the second experiment, only the seasonal characteristics of SST are changed. In response to an amplified annual cycle of SST, the annual cycle of precipitation is amplified, while for a delayed SST, the annual cycle of precipitation is delayed. Assuming that SST changes can entirely explain the seasonal precipitation changes, the AGCM simulations herein suggest that the annual mean warming explains most of the amplitude increase and much of the phase delay in the CMIP5 models. However, imperfect agreement between the changes in the SST-forced AGCM simulations and the CMIP5 coupled simulations suggests that coupled effects may play a significant role.

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Kerry H. Cook and Edward K. Vizy

Abstract

A regional climate model with 90-km horizontal resolution on a large domain is used to predict and analyze precipitation changes over East Africa caused by greenhouse gas increases. A pair of six-member ensembles is used: one representing the late twentieth century and another the mid-twenty-first century under a midline emissions scenario. The twentieth-century simulation uses boundary conditions from reanalysis climatology, and these are modified for the mid-twenty-first-century simulation using output from coupled GCMs. The twentieth-century simulation reproduces the observed climate well. In eastern Ethiopia and Somalia, the boreal spring rains that begin in May are cut short in the mid-twenty-first-century simulation. The cause is an anomalous dry, anticyclonic flow that develops over the Arabian Peninsula and the northern Arabian Sea as mass shifts eastward near 20°N in response to strong warming over the Sahara. In Tanzania and southern Kenya, the boreal spring's long rains are reduced throughout the season in the future simulation. This is a secondary response to precipitation enhancement in the Congo basin. The boreal fall “short rains” season is lengthened in the twenty-first-century simulation in the southern Kenya and Tanzania region in association with a northeastward shift of the South Indian convergence zone.

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Peter J. Lamb, Diane H. Portis, and Abraham Zangvil

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The atmospheric moisture budget and surface interactions for the southern Great Plains are evaluated for contrasting May–June periods (1998, 2002, 2006, and 2007) as background for the Cloud and Land Surface Interaction Campaign (CLASIC) of (wet) 7–30 June 2007. Budget components [flux divergence (MFD), storage change (dPW), and inflow (IF/A)] are estimated from North American Regional Reanalysis data. Precipitation (P) is calculated from NCEP daily gridded data, evapotranspiration (E) is obtained as moisture budget equation residual, and the recycling ratio (PE/P) is estimated using a new equation. Regional averages are presented for months and five daily P categories. Monthly budget results show that E and E − P are strongly positively related to P; EP generally is positive and balanced by positive MFD that results from its horizontal velocity divergence component (HD, positive) exceeding its horizontal advection component (HA, negative). An exception is 2007 (CLASIC), when EP and MFD are negative and supported primarily by negative HA. These overall monthly results characterize low P days (≤0.6 mm), including for nonanomalous 2007, but weaken as daily P approaches 4 mm. In contrast, for 4 < P ≤ 8 mm day−1 EP and MFD are moderately negative and balanced largely by negative HD except in 2007 (negative HA). This overall pattern was accentuated (including for nonanomalous 2007) when daily P > 8 mm. Daily P E/P ratios are small and of limited range, with P category averages 0.15–0.19. Ratios for 2007 are above average only for daily P ≤ 4 mm. CLASIC wetness principally resulted from distinctive MFD characteristics. Solar radiation, soil moisture, and crop status/yield information document surface interactions.

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