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Seasonal variability and predictability of monsoon precipitation in Southern Africa

by Matthew F Horan, Fred Kucharski, Moetasim Ashfaq
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Environmental Research Letters
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Rainfed agriculture is the mainstay of economies across Southern Africa (SA), where most precipitation is received during the austral summer monsoon. This study aims to further our understanding of monsoon precipitation predictability over SA. We use three natural climate forcings, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), and the Indian Ocean Precipitation Dipole (IOPD)—the dominant precipitation variability mode—to construct an empirical model that exhibits significant skill over SA during monsoon in explaining precipitation variability and in forecasting it with a five-month lead. While most explained precipitation variance (50%–75%) comes from contemporaneous IOD and IOPD, preconditioning all three forcings is key in predicting monsoon precipitation with a zero to five-month lead. Seasonal forecasting systems accurately represent the interplay of the three forcings but show varying skills in representing their teleconnection over SA. This makes them less effective at predicting monsoon precipitation than the empirical model.