Seasonality of African Precipitation from 1996 to 2009


Brant Liebmann
NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, and CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center, Boulder, Colorado

Ileana Bladé
Departament d'Astronomia i Meteorologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

George N. Kiladis
Physical Sciences Diovision, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

Leila M.V. Carvalho
Department of Geography and Earth Research Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California

Gabriel B. Senay
U.S. Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Dave Allured
NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, and CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center, Boulder, Colorado

Stephanie Leroux
NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory/National Research Council, Boulder, Colorado

Chris Funk
Climate Hazards Group, Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California

(Manuscript received 16 March 2011, in final form 30 September 2011)

Abstract

A precipitation climatology of Africa is documented using 12 years of satellite-derived daily data from the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP). The focus is on examining spatial variations in the annual cycle and describing characteristics of the wet season(s) using a consistent, objective, and well-tested methodology. Onset is defined as occurring when daily precipitation consistently exceeds its local annual daily average and ends when precipitation systematically drops below that value. Wet season length, rate, and total are then determined. Much of Africa is characterized by a single summer wet season, with a well-defined onset and end, during which most precipitation falls. Exceptions to the single wet season regime occur mostly near the equator, where two wet periods are usually separated by a period of relatively modest precipitation. Another particularly interesting region is the semiarid to arid eastern Horn of Africa, where there are two short wet seasons separated by nearly dry periods. Chiefly, the summer monsoon spreads poleward from near the equator in both hemispheres, although in southern Africa the wet season progresses northwestward from the southeast coast. Composites relative to onset are constructed for selected points in West Africa and in the eastern Horn of Africa. In each case, onset is often preceded by the arrival of an eastward-propagating precipitation disturbance. Comparisons are made with the satellite-based Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and gauge-based Famine Early Warning System (FEWS NET) datasets. GPCP estimates are generally higher than TRMM in the wettest parts of Africa, but the timing of the annual cycle and average onset dates are largely consistent.