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Keywords:

  • synoptic climatology;
  • climate variability;
  • rainfall variability;
  • extratropical cyclone

Abstract

Cool season rainfall variability in southeastern Australia is investigated via classification and characterization of the predominant types of synoptic systems occurring in the region. These types are frontal systems, cut-off low systems, and other systems. Rainfall in the region is dominated by cut-off systems and these systems are the main influence on the interannual variability of rainfall. Both cut-off systems and frontal systems display an enhancement of thermal (thickness) gradient as rainfall increases, but the mechanisms for intensification differ. Cut-off systems intensify in the region in association with local increases in baroclinicity and the subtropical jet, whereas frontal systems tend to intensify via a confluence of subtropical and polar jets. Interannual rainfall variability is examined for groupings of years based on both clustering of continental rainfall patterns and on El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO)/Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) years. Cut-off systems exhibit consistent enhancements of thermal gradients for groupings of years in which they produce more rainfall. For ENSO/IOD groupings, the cut-off thermal gradients are consistent with the underlying sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies. Wet years in southeastern Australia are usually produced by cut-off systems, but can also be produced by frontal systems. In those cases the mid-tropospheric flow pattern is reminiscent of the negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM) pattern. The positive SAM pattern is also associated with enhanced rainfall in the southeast via local intensification of blocking and cut-off systems. Copyright © 2008 Royal Meteorological Society