We have developed a hydrological prognostic index, HOWI (hydrological onset and withdrawal index), for the onset and the withdrawal of the West African monsoon (WAM), based on the vertically integrated moisture transport (VIMT). The regions of West Africa with the same climatological onset (withdrawal) date are characterized by a large change of the VIMT around the onset (withdrawal) date. By analyzing the variability of the VIMT, we determine the extension and the geographical position of these regions, which we take sufficiently large to filter out the fast weather variability. It turns out that the regions with the same climatological onset date do not usually coincide with the regions with the same climatological withdrawal date, the areas with the maximum variability of the VIMT during the onset phase are usually a fraction of the area where the variability of the VIMT is large during the withdrawal phase. This is because the onset has active phases and pauses in time and it is fragmented in space, while the withdrawal is rather rapid and almost uniformly distributed through the entire monsoonal region. When the monsoon moves inland, the rainfall slightly trails behind the arrival of the moisture, and, when the monsoon moves back towards the gulf of Guinea, the moisture slightly precedes the retreating rainfall. In a specific region, we say that the onset (withdrawal) of the monsoon occurs when the moisture reaches (declines to) half of its climatological value. The level of the moisture relatively to its climatological value is evaluated through the HOWI, i.e., at the onset (withdrawal) the HOWI is zero with a positive (negative) tendency. We find that the dates of the onset of the monsoon determined using the HOWI, computed in the region where the VIMT has its maximum variability during the onset phase of WAM, well agree with the dates of the sudden transition of the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) from 5 to 10°N. The uncertainty on the onset date is of the order of 2 pentads, which is comparable to the uncertainty on the date of the sudden transition of the ITCZ. We, then, use the HOWI to determine the onset and the withdrawal dates of the monsoon for the period 1979–2004, finding that an early (late) onset usually preludes to a longer (shorter) monsoonal season with more (less) cumulated rain. Finally, we compare the onset dates in the Sahelian region, for the period 1979–2004, with those determined using methods based on rainfall.