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Keywords:

  • climate variability;
  • climate change;
  • rainfall climatology;
  • rainfall trends;
  • decadal variability;
  • Australian climate

Abstract

Trends in Australian precipitation from 1970 to 2006 are examined using a daily rainfall dataset. Results suggest a linkage between changes in the monsoon trough and rainfall trends over northwestern Australia. The late twentieth century drought observed along the Queensland coast is a response to changes in the atmospheric circulation that generates anomalous subsidence at high and middle levels of the atmosphere, thus inhibiting convection over the region. In addition, an anomalous anticyclonic circulation at low levels over Queensland tends to weaken the easterlies in the tropical western Pacific, thus diminishing the transport of moist air onto the coast. Trends in the frequency and magnitude of different rainfall events are also examined. This reveals that changes in total rainfall are dominated by trends in very heavy rainfall events across Australia. For example, some parts of western Australia reveal an increase in heavy rainfall events that are not accompanied by a rise in modest rainfall events, resulting in changes in the shape of the distribution towards a more skewed precipitation distribution. On the other hand, the frequency of extreme rainfall events along the Queensland coast has declined during summer and autumn consistently with the total rainfall decrease, indicating changes in the position of the precipitation distribution rather than its shape. Copyright © 2008 Royal Meteorological Society