The East African Long Rains in Observations and Models

Yang, Wenchang; Seager, Richard; Cane, Mark A.; Lyon, Bradfield

Decadal variability of the East African precipitation during the season of March–May (long rains) is examined and the performance of a series of models in simulating the observed features is assessed. Observational results show that the drying trend of the long rains is associated with decadal natural variability associated with sea surface temperature (SST) variations over the Pacific Ocean. Empirical orthogonal function (EOF), linear regression, and composite analyses all show the spatial pattern of the associated SST field to be La Niña like. The SST-forced International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) forecast models are able to capture the East African precipitation climatology, the decadal variability of the long rains, and the associated SST anomaly pattern but are not consistent with observations from the 1970s. The multimodel mean of the SST-forced models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project (AMIP) experiment captures the climatology and the drying trend in recent decades. The fully coupled models from the CMIP5 historical experiment, however, have systematic errors in simulating the East African precipitation climatology by underestimating the long rains while overestimating the short rains. The multimodel mean of the historical simulations of the long rains anomalies, which is the best estimate of the radiatively forced change, shows a weak wetting trend associated with anthropogenic forcing. The SST anomaly pattern associated with the long rains has large discrepancies with the observations. The results herein suggest caution in projections of East African precipitation from CMIP5 or the relationship between the East African precipitation and the SST spatial pattern found in paleoclimate studies with coupled climate models.

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Journal of Climate