Devastating East African drought made more likely by climate change



In 2011 a powerful drought gripped East Africa. Vastly reduced 2010 fall rains and 2011 spring rains caused a drought that stacked on an already unstable political climate, caused a famine that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Whenever an extreme weather event strikes a population—a drought, a hurricane, or a powerful flood—questions arise as to whether ongoing global climate change is complicit. Most scientists, when confronted with such questions, suggest that no one act of weather can be attributed to the long-term statistical shifts that make up a change in climate. The nascent field of event attribution, however, is seeking to provide a more satisfying answer to this question. Using climate modeling techniques, researchers estimate how the probability or magnitude of a specific extreme event—in this case, the failure of the East African rains—was affected by climate change.