Tropical cyclones and the ecohydrology of Australia's recent continental-scale drought



[1] The Big Dry, a recent drought over southeast Australia, began around 1997 and continued until 2011. We show that between 2002–2010, instead of a localized drought, there was a continent-wide reduction in water storage, vegetation and rainfall, spanning the northwest to the southeast of Australia. Trends in water storage and vegetation were assessed using Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data. Water storage and NDVI are shown to be significantly correlated across the continent and the greatest losses of water storage occurred over northwest Australia. The frequency of tropical cyclones over northwest Australia peaked just prior to the launch of the GRACE mission in 2002. Indeed, since 1981, decade-scale fluctuations in tropical cyclone numbers coincide with similar variation in rainfall and vegetation over northwest Australia. Rainfall and vegetation in southeast Australia trended oppositely to the northwest prior to 2001. Despite differences between the northwest and southeast droughts, there is reason to believe that continental droughts may occur when the respective climate drivers align.