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Samantha Stevenson, Jonathan T. Overpeck, John Fasullo, Sloan Coats, Luke Parsons, Bette Otto-Bliesner, Toby Ault, Garrison Loope, and Julia Cole


Multidecadal hydroclimate variability has been expressed as “megadroughts” (dry periods more severe and prolonged than observed over the twentieth century) and corresponding “megapluvial” wet periods in many regions around the world. The risk of such events is strongly affected by modes of coupled atmosphere–ocean variability and by external impacts on climate. Accurately assessing the mechanisms for these interactions is difficult, since it requires large ensembles of millennial simulations as well as long proxy time series. Here, the Community Earth System Model (CESM) Last Millennium Ensemble is used to examine statistical associations among megaevents, coupled climate modes, and forcing from major volcanic eruptions. El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) strongly affects hydroclimate extremes: larger ENSO amplitude reduces megadrought risk and persistence in the southwestern United States, the Sahel, monsoon Asia, and Australia, with corresponding increases in Mexico and the Amazon. The Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO) also alters megadrought risk, primarily in the Caribbean and the Amazon. Volcanic influences are felt primarily through enhancing AMO amplitude, as well as alterations in the structure of both ENSO and AMO teleconnections, which lead to differing manifestations of megadrought. These results indicate that characterizing hydroclimate variability requires an improved understanding of both volcanic climate impacts and variations in ENSO/AMO teleconnections.

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Sjoukje Philip, Sarah F. Kew, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, Friederike Otto, Sarah O’Keefe, Karsten Haustein, Andrew King, Abiy Zegeye, Zewdu Eshetu, Kinfe Hailemariam, Roop Singh, Eddie Jjemba, Chris Funk, and Heidi Cullen


In northern and central Ethiopia, 2015 was a very dry year. Rainfall was only from one-half to three-quarters of the usual amount, with both the “belg” (February–May) and “kiremt” rains (June–September) affected. The timing of the rains that did fall was also erratic. Many crops failed, causing food shortages for many millions of people. The role of climate change in the probability of a drought like this is investigated, focusing on the large-scale precipitation deficit in February–September 2015 in northern and central Ethiopia. Using a gridded analysis that combines station data with satellite observations, it is estimated that the return period of this drought was more than 60 years (lower bound 95% confidence interval), with a most likely value of several hundred years. No trend is detected in the observations, but the large natural variability and short time series means large trends could go undetected in the observations. Two out of three large climate model ensembles that simulated rainfall reasonably well show no trend while the third shows an increased probability of drought. Taking the model spread into account the drought still cannot be clearly attributed to anthropogenic climate change, with the 95% confidence interval ranging from a probability decrease between preindustrial and today of a factor of 0.3 and an increase of a factor of 5 for a drought like this one or worse. A soil moisture dataset also shows a nonsignificant drying trend. According to ENSO correlations in the observations, the strong 2015 El Niño did increase the severity of the drought.

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