Global Warming Accounts for Tripling of Extreme West African Sahel Storms, Study Shows

The UK-based Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has led an international team of scientists who reveal global warming is responsible for a tripling in the frequency of extreme West African Sahel storms observed in just the last 35 years.

This is the onset of a Sahelian storm.
Credit: Fran├žoise GUICHARD/Laurent KERGOAT/CNRS Photo Library

Professor Christopher Taylor, a Meteorologist at CEH, and researchers from partner institutions including Grenoble Alpes University in France, also suggest that climate change will see the Sahel experience many more instances of extreme rain in future.

Professor Taylor and the fellow scientists’ findings, Frequency of extreme Sahelian storms tripled since 1982 in satellite observations, published in the journal Nature note that further strengthening of intense storms in the Sahel known as Mesoscale Convective Systems (MCSs) will increase the risk of more frequent and severe flooding and disease due to poor sanitation in West African cities. The findings will also this week be presented at the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union at its meeting in Vienna, Austria.

The Sahelian storms are some of the most explosive storms in the world, containing clouds that can grow to a height of 16km above the ground. In 2009 a downpour of 263mm over several hours forced 150,000 residents of Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso, to leave their homes. The study, which has analysed trends from 35 years of satellite observations across Africa, provides unique insight into how some of the most violent storms in the world are responding to rising global temperatures.

The research indicates that MCS intensification is linked to increasingly hot conditions in the Sahara desert resulting from man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Saharan warming affects storm intensity across the Sahel, a band of semi-arid land to the south of the desert which is home to some of the most vulnerable populations on the planet.

Professor Taylor, said, “Global warming is expected to produce more intense storms, but we were shocked to see the speed of the changes taking place in this region of Africa.”

Co-author Professor Douglas Parker, Professor of Meteorology at the University of Leeds, UK, said, “African storms are highly organised meteorological engines, whose currents extract water from the air to produce torrential rain. We have seen these engines becoming more efficient over recent decades, with resulting increases in the frequency of hazardous events.”

This is the onset of a Sahelian storm.
Credit: Fran├žoise GUICHARD/Laurent KERGOAT/CNRS Photo Library

Source: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)

Add Comment