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CHG contributes to Journal of Climate

CHIRPS data measuring rainfall in Ethiopia during drought

An article titled, "Attribution Analysis of the Ethiopian Drought of 2015" (10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0274.1) co-authored by Chris Funk was published into the Journal of Climate, vol. 31, no. 6. on March 1st, 2018.


In northern and central Ethiopia, 2015 was a very dry year. Rainfall was only from one-half to threequarters of the usual amount, with both the ''belg'' (February–May) and ''kiremt'' rains (June–September) affected. The timing of the rains that did fall was also erratic. Many crops failed, causing food shortages for many millions of people. The role of climate change in the probability of a drought like this is investigated, focusing on the large-scale precipitation deficit in February–September 2015 in northern and central Ethiopia. Using a gridded analysis that combines station data with satellite observations, it is estimated that the return period of this drought was more than 60 years (lower bound 95% confidence interval), with a most likely value of several hundred years. No trend is detected in the observations, but the large natural variability and short time series means large trends could go undetected in the observations. Two out of three large climate model ensembles that simulated rainfall reasonably well show no trend while the third shows an increased probability of drought. Taking the model spread into account the drought still cannot be clearly attributed to anthropogenic climate change, with the 95% confidence interval ranging from a probability decrease between preindustrial and today of a factor of 0.3 and an increase of a factor of 5 for a drought like this one or worse. A soil moisture dataset also shows a nonsignificant drying trend. According to ENSO correlations in the observations, the strong 2015 El Niño did increase the severity of the drought.