Forecasting droughts in East Africa

Mwangi E, Wetterhall F, Dutra E, Di Giuseppe F, Pappenberger F
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 611-620, 2014

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The humanitarian crises caused by the recent droughts (2008–2009 and 2010–2011) in East Africa have illustrated that the ability to make accurate drought forecasts with sufficient lead time is essential. The use of dynamical model precipitation forecasts in combination with drought indices, such as the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), can potentially lead to a better description of drought duration, magnitude and spatial extent. This study evaluates the use of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) products in forecasting droughts in East Africa. ECMWF seasonal precipitation shows significant skill for March–May and October–December rain seasons when evaluated against measurements from the available in situ stations from East Africa. The forecast for October–December rain season has higher skill than for the March–May season. ECMWF forecasts add value to the consensus forecasts produced during the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF), which is the present operational product for precipitation forecast over East Africa. Complementing the original ECMWF precipitation forecasts with SPI provides additional information on the spatial extent and intensity of the drought event.