Drought in the Models

Drought is almost surely the most important piece of climate change/variability in terms of its impacts on human society (sorry, hurricane fans – I’ll defend this if needed). And sub-Saharan Africa is ground zero, the Gulf Coast of drought risk. So this should give pause – evidence that the models aren’t getting African drought right:

We find that only eight CGCMs (hit models) produce a reasonable Sahel drought signal, while seven CGCMs (miss models) produce excessive rainfall over the Sahel during the observed drought period. Even the model with the highest prediction skill of the Sahel drought could only predict the increasing trend of severe drought events but not the beginning and duration of the events.

Lau, K. M., S. S. P. Shen, K.-M. Kim, and H. Wang (2006), A multimodel study of the twentieth-century simulations of Sahel drought from the 1970s to 1990s, J. Geophys. Res., 111, D07111, doi:10.1029/2005JD006281


  1. John- Thanks for the pointer. Interestingly, of all of the major hazards — TCs, floods, earthquakes, etc. — drought is the one that has the poorest understanding of societal impacts over time. There has been great work done on drought, for sure, but understanding drought impacts like we do floods or hurricanes is just about impossible.

  2. I think that’s partly because it is so ill-defined. You’re no doubt already familiar (but others may not be) with Wilhite and Glantz back in the 1980s finding something like 150 different definitions in the literature.

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