ENSO and the spatial extent of interannual precipitation extremes in tropical land areas

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Journal of Climate
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nhe extreme phases of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) are known to dominate the interannual variability of tropical rainfall. However, the relationship between ENSO and the spatial extent of drought and excessively wet conditions is an important characteristic of the tropical climate that has received relatively less attention from researchers. Here, a standardized precipitation index is computed from monthly rainfall analyses and the temporal variability of the spatial extent of such extremes, for various levels of severity, is examined from a Tropics-wide perspective ( land areas only, 30 degrees S - 30 degrees N). Maxima in the spatial extent of both precipitation extremes are compared across multiple ENSO events that occurred during the period 1950-2003. The focus on tropical land areas is motivated by the numerous, often negative, impacts of ENSO-related precipitation variability on human populations.Results show that major peaks in the spatial extent of drought and excessively wet conditions are generally associated with extreme phases of ENSO. A remarkably robust linear relationship is documented between the spatial extent of drought in the Tropics and El Nino strength ( based on Nino-3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies), with a comparatively weaker relationship for La Ni a and excessive wetness. Both conditions are found to increase by about a factor of 2 between strong and weak ENSO events, and in several locations they are shown to be more likely during ENSO events than at all other times, especially for severe categories. Relatively stronger El Nino events during recent decades are associated with increased drought extent in tropical land areas with increasing surface temperatures likely acting to exacerbate these dry conditions.


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