Understanding precipitation variability over Africa : observational analysis and regional climate model simulations

Liu, Weiran, Ph. D.
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Understanding precipitation variability over Africa is important because this region experiences rainfall events that influence agriculture and economic infrastructure, and threaten lives regularly. This study aims to advance our understanding of African precipitation across different timescales, from diurnal cycle to interannual variations, using observations, reanalyses, and regional climate model simulations. First, we evaluate the role of MCSs in the total rainfall distribution as a function of season from a climatological perspective (1998-2014) over sub-Saharan northern Africa and examine how the diurnal cycle of rainfall changes with season. The percentages of the full TRMM precipitation delivered by MCSs have meridional structures in spring, fall and winter, while the percentages are homogenous in summer (>80%). The diurnal peaks are classified into three categories: single afternoon peak, continuous afternoon peak, and nocturnal peak. The continuous afternoon peak combines rainfall from two system types –one locally-generated and one propagating. The seasonality of the diurnal cycle is related to the seasonality of MCS lifetimes, and propagation speeds and directions. Second, a low-level jet, the West African westerly jet, is investigated over the West African coast. In the western Sahel (0°-10°W, 8°-18°N), the moisture flux associated with the jet is stronger than that associated with the southerly West African monsoon flow from July 5 to August 20 (45 days). The moisture budget analysis reveals that the seasonal evolution of the rainfall in this analysis region is associated with zonal moisture convergence related to changes of the jet. Finally, three sub-regions of the Indian Ocean in which SSTs significantly influence the equatorial East African short rains on interannual timescales are identified, and the physical processes of this influence are studied using regional climate model simulations. SSTAs in the western Indian Ocean exert a stronger influence on the short rains than central and eastern Indian Ocean SSTAs both in terms of the coverage of significantly-changed precipitation and the magnitude of the precipitation response. The mechanisms of this influence are diagnosed using atmospheric moisture budget and moist static energy analyses, with reference to Kelvin and Rossby wave generation as in the Gill model, but in the presence of complicated topography and nonzero background flows.