From synoptic to interdecadal variability in southern African rainfall: towards a unified view across timescales

Benjamin Pohl, Bastien Dieppois, Julien Cretat, Damian Lawler, Mathieu Rouault

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    During the austral summer season (November–February), southern African rainfall, south of 20°S, has been shown to vary over a range of timescales, from synoptic variability (3-7 days, mostly Tropical-Temperate Troughs) to interannual variability (2-8 years, reflecting the regional effects of El Niño Southern Oscillation). There is also evidence for variability at quasi-decadal (8-13 years) and interdecadal (15-28 years) timescales, linked to the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, respectively. This study aims to provide an overview of these ranges of variability, their influence on regional climate and large-scale atmospheric convection, and quantify uncertainties associated with each timescale. We do this by applying k-means clustering onto long-term (1901–2011) daily Outgoing Longwave Radiation anomalies derived from the 56 individual members of the 20th Century Reanalysis. Eight large-scale convective regimes are identified.

    Results show that: (i) the seasonal occurrence of the regimes significantly varies at the low-frequency timescales mentioned above; (ii) these modulations account for a significant fraction of seasonal rainfall variability over the region; (iii) significant associations are found between some of the regimes and the aforementioned modes of climate variability; and (iv) associated uncertainties in the regime occurrence and convection anomalies strongly decrease with time, especially the phasing of transient variability. The short-lived synoptic anomalies and the low-frequency anomalies are shown to be approximately additive, but even if they combine their respective influence at both scales, the magnitude of short-lived perturbations remains much larger.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5845–5872
    Number of pages28
    JournalJournal of Climate
    Issue number15
    Early online date29 Jun 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


    • Africa
    • Rainfall
    • Climate classifaction/regimes
    • Climate variability
    • Decadal Variability
    • Interannual variability


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