Climate Dynamics

, Volume 54, Issue 1–2, pp 307–327 | Cite as

Understanding the influence of ENSO patterns on drought over southern Africa using SPEEDY

  • Michelle GoreEmail author
  • Babatunde J. Abiodun
  • Fred Kucharski


The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a major driver of southern Africa drought, but the nonlinearity of ENSO variation inhibits accurate drought prediction. While studies have identified multiple sea surface temperature (SST) patterns associated with ENSO, most drought predictions over southern Africa are still based on only two patterns. This study examines the relationship between southern Africa droughts and eight ENSO SST patterns using SPEEDY. The capability of SPEEDY in reproducing southern Africa climate was evaluated by comparing historical simulations (1979–2008) with observation. To understand the influence of ENSO SST patterns on southern Africa drought, multi-ensemble simulations were forced with SSTs of each pattern, and the impacts on the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) and the associated atmospheric dynamics were analysed. The results show that SPEEDY generally captures the temporal and spatial distribution of climate variables over southern Africa well, although with a warm and wet bias. However, the results are comparable with those from more complex atmospheric models. In agreement with previous studies, the results show that El Niño (La Niña) conditions weaken (strengthen) the Walker circulation, causing drier (wetter) conditions over parts of southern Africa. However, the results show that differences in the El Niño conditions alter the moisture flux circulation over southern Africa, thereby influencing the spatial pattern and intensity of drought over the region. The same is true of the La Niña conditions. Hence, this study shows that accounting for the differences in El Niño (or La Niña) conditions may improve drought predictions in southern Africa.


Droughts Southern Africa ENSO Teleconnections SPEEDY 



The project was supported by grants from the National Research Foundation (NRF, South Africa) and the Alliance for Collaboration on Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS, South Africa). We thank the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics for making SPEEDY available and for providing technical support. We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback.

Supplementary material

382_2019_5002_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (5 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 5114 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Geographical ScienceUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Climate System Analysis Group, Department of Environmental and Geographical ScienceUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Earth System Physics SectionAbdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical PhysicsTriesteItaly

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