Drivers and subseasonal predictability of heavy rainfall in equatorial east africa and relationship with flood risk

David A. Macleod*, Rutger Dankers, Richard Graham, Kiswendsida Guigma, Luke Jenkins, Martin C. Todd, Augustine Kiptum, Mary Kilavi, Andrew Njogu, Emmah Mwangi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Equatorial East Africa (EEA) suffers from significant flood risks. These can be mitigated with preemptive action; however, currently available early warnings are limited to a few days’ lead time. Extending warnings using subseasonal climate forecasts could open a window for more extensive preparedness activity. However, before these forecasts can be used, the basis of their skill and relevance for flood risk must be established. Here we demonstrate that subseasonal forecasts are particularly skillful overEEA. Forecasts can skillfully anticipate weekly upper-quintile rainfall within a season, at lead times of 2weeks and beyond.Wedemonstrate the link between theMadden-Julian oscillation (MJO) and extreme rainfall events in the region, and confirm that leading forecast models accurately represent the EEA teleconnection to the MJO. The relevance of weekly rainfall totals for fluvial flood risk in the region is investigated using a long record of streamflow fromtheNzoiaRiver in western Kenya. Both heavy rainfall and high antecedent rainfall conditions are identified as key drivers of flood risk, with upper-quintile weekly rainfall shown to skillfully discriminate flood events. We additionally evaluate GloFAS global flood forecasts for the Nzoia basin. Though these are able to anticipate some flooding events with several weeks lead time, analysis suggests action based on these would result in a false alarm more than 50% of the time. Overall, these results build on the scientific evidence base that supports the use of subseasonal forecasts in EEA, and activities to advance their use are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)887-903
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Africa
  • Flood events
  • Forecast verification/skill
  • Madden-julian oscillation

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