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Climate Scientists: New Advances Make Droughts ‘Extremely Predictable’ and Provide Opportunity for Proactive Responses

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  • Global
  • for immediate release: July 20, 2023
Climate Scientists: New Advances Make Droughts ‘Extremely Predictable’ and Provide Opportunity for Proactive Responses


Washington, D.C. – Scientists with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) have developed new advances in the predictability of East African rains that will allow for earlier, more accurate warnings of extreme drought. 

In a paper published Thursday in the journal Earth’s Future, scientists with the University of California, Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Center (CHC) and other FEWS NET partner organizations, such as the East African IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center, describe how climate change is interacting with La Niña to produce extreme, yet extremely predictable, variations in sea surface temperatures, making it possible to predict droughts eight months ahead of time. 

“Years of research have led to a deep understanding of these extremes, opening the door to very successful long-lead forecasts,” Chris Funk, CHC director and co-author of the Earth’s Future paper, said. “We hope this paper helps to generate further trust in these predictions, so governments and aid organizations can confidently use them to guide future relief efforts and, in turn, save lives.”

In the paper, Funk and co-authors describe how they used sea surface temperature gradients to accurately predict numerous droughts and floods since 2016. Most notably, FEWS NET scientists used these predictive capabilities to forecast a record-breaking five consecutive seasons of drought in the eastern Horn of Africa. FEWS NET’s warnings helped motivate USAID's humanitarian response of more than $1.8 billion in the region.

Looking towards the future, Funk and co-authors urge readers to prepare for more adverse weather events like extreme droughts as the effects of climate change persist.

“Investing now in collaborative African climate services, participatory advisory services and proactive risk management will help counter these threatening climate extremes,” the authors wrote.

Read the full paper, including a set of recommendations, at Earth’s Future. CHC climate analyses and outlooks are also available. For the latest reports and alerts on global acute food insecurity, follow FEWS NET on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe for updates.


Hannah Button
Famine Early Warning Systems Network

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