The Strong Association between Western Sahelian Monsoon Rainfall and Intense Atlantic Hurricanes

Christopher W. Landsea Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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William M. Gray Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Abstract

Seasonal variability of Atlantic basin tropical cyclones is examined with respect to the monsoon rainfall over West Africa. Variations of intense hurricanes are of the most interest, as they are responsible for over three-quarters of United States tropical cyclone spawned destruction, though they account for only one-fifth of all landfalling cyclones. Intense hurricanes have also shown a strong downward trend during the last few decades. It is these storms that show the largest concurrent association with Africa's western Sahelian June-September rainfall for the years 1949–90.

Though the Sahel is currently experiencing a multidecadal drought, the relationship between Atlantic tropical cyclones and western Sahelian rainfall is not dependent on the similar downward trends in both datasets. A detrended analysis confirms that a strong association still exists, though reduced somewhat in variance explained. Additionally, independent data from the years 1899 to 1948 substantiate the existence of the tropical cyclone-western Sabelian rainfall association.

The fact that the Sahel periodically experiences multidecadal wet and dry regimes suggests that the current Sahelian drought, which began in the late 1960s, could be a temporary condition that may end in the new future. When this occurs, the Atlantic hurricane basin—especially the Caribbean islands and the United States East Coast—will likely see a large increase in intense hurricane activity associated with abundant Sahelian rainfall similar to the period of the late 1940s through the 1960s.

Abstract

Seasonal variability of Atlantic basin tropical cyclones is examined with respect to the monsoon rainfall over West Africa. Variations of intense hurricanes are of the most interest, as they are responsible for over three-quarters of United States tropical cyclone spawned destruction, though they account for only one-fifth of all landfalling cyclones. Intense hurricanes have also shown a strong downward trend during the last few decades. It is these storms that show the largest concurrent association with Africa's western Sahelian June-September rainfall for the years 1949–90.

Though the Sahel is currently experiencing a multidecadal drought, the relationship between Atlantic tropical cyclones and western Sahelian rainfall is not dependent on the similar downward trends in both datasets. A detrended analysis confirms that a strong association still exists, though reduced somewhat in variance explained. Additionally, independent data from the years 1899 to 1948 substantiate the existence of the tropical cyclone-western Sabelian rainfall association.

The fact that the Sahel periodically experiences multidecadal wet and dry regimes suggests that the current Sahelian drought, which began in the late 1960s, could be a temporary condition that may end in the new future. When this occurs, the Atlantic hurricane basin—especially the Caribbean islands and the United States East Coast—will likely see a large increase in intense hurricane activity associated with abundant Sahelian rainfall similar to the period of the late 1940s through the 1960s.

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