The recent decline in Horn of Africa rainfall during the March–May “long rains” season has fomented drought and famine, threatening food security in an already vulnerable region. Some attribute this decline to anthropogenic forcing, whereas others maintain that it is a feature of internal climate variability. We show that the rate of drying in the Horn of Africa during the 20th century is unusual in the context of the last 2000 years, is synchronous with recent global and regional warming, and therefore may have an anthropogenic component.

As the water vapor content in the atmosphere scales with temperature, a warmer world is expected to feature an intensification of the hydrological cycle. Work to date has mainly focused on mean precipitation changes, whose connection to climatic modes is elusive at a global scale.