Climate Dynamics

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 463-472

First online:

The 1983 drought in the West Sahel: a case study

  • Jürgen BaderAffiliated withBjerknes Centre for Climate ResearchGeophysical Institute, University of Bergen Email author 
  • , Mojib LatifAffiliated withLeibniz-Institute for Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel

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Some drought years over sub-Saharan west Africa (1972, 1977, 1984) have been previously related to a cross-equatorial Atlantic gradient pattern with anomalously warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs) south of 10°N and anomalously cold SSTs north of 10°N. This SST dipole-like pattern was not characteristic of 1983, the third driest summer of the twentieth century in the Sahel. This study presents evidence that the dry conditions that persisted over the west Sahel in 1983 were mainly forced by high Indian Ocean SSTs that were probably remanent from the strong 1982/1983 El Niño event. The synchronous Pacific impact of the 1982/1983 El Niño event on west African rainfall was however, quite weak. Prior studies have mainly suggested that the Indian Ocean SSTs impact the decadal-scale rainfall variability over the west Sahel. This study demonstrates that the Indian Ocean also significantly affects inter-annual rainfall variability over the west Sahel and that it was the main forcing for the drought over the west Sahel in 1983.


Sahel Drought Rainfall SST Indian Ocean