FEWS NET research is advancing rapidly on several fronts, providing better climate forecasts and more effective drought monitoring tools that are being used to support enhanced famine early warning. We explore the philosophy and science underlying these successes, suggesting that a modal view of climate change can support enhanced seasonal prediction. Under this modal perspective, warming of the tropical oceans may interact with natural modes of variability, like the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, to enhance Indo-Pacific sea surface temperature gradients during both El Niño and La Niña-like climate states. Using empirical data and climate change simulations, we suggest that a sequence of droughts may commence in northern Ethiopia and Southern Africa with the advent of a moderate-to-strong El Niño, and then continue with La Niña/West Pacific related droughts in equatorial eastern East Africa. Scientifically, we show that a new hybrid statistical-dynamic precipitation forecast system, the FEWS NET Integrated Forecast System (FIFS), based on reformulations of the Global Ensemble Forecast System weather forecasts and National Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) seasonal climate predictions, can effectively anticipate recent East and Southern African drought events. Using cross-validation, we evaluate FIFS’ skill and compare it to the NMME and the International Research Institute forecasts.
Our study concludes with an overview of the satellite observations provided by FEWS NET partners at NOAA, NASA, USGS, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the assimilation of these products within the FEWS NET Land Data Assimilation System (FLDAS).