A Systematic Comparison of Tropical Waves over Northern Africa. Part I: Influence on Rainfall


Low-latitude rainfall variability on the daily to intraseasonal time scale is often related to tropical waves, including convectively coupled equatorial waves, the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), and tropical disturbances (TDs). Despite the importance of rainfall variability for vulnerable societies in tropical Africa, the relative influence of tropical waves for this region is largely unknown. This article presents the first systematic comparison of the impact of six wave types on precipitation over northern tropical Africa during the transition and full monsoon seasons, using two satellite products and a dense rain gauge network. Composites of rainfall anomalies in the different datasets show comparable modulation intensities in the West Sahel and at the Guinea Coast, varying from less than 2 to above 7 mm day −1 depending on the wave type. African easterly waves (AEWs) and Kelvin waves dominate the 3-hourly to daily time scale and explain 10%–30% locally. On longer time scales (7–20 days), only the MJO and equatorial Rossby (ER) waves remain as modulating factors and explain about up to one-third of rainfall variability. Eastward inertio-gravity waves and mixed Rossby–gravity (MRG) waves are comparatively unimportant. An analysis of wave superposition shows that low-frequency waves (MJO, ER) in their wet phase amplify the activity of high-frequency waves (TD, MRG) and suppress them in the dry phase. The results stress that more attention should be paid to tropical waves when forecasting rainfall over northern tropical Africa.

Journal of Climate