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A New Daily Pressure Dataset for Australia and Its Application to the Assessment of Changes in Synoptic Patterns during the Last Century

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  • 1 School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

A high-quality daily dataset of in situ mean sea level pressure was collated for Australia for the period from 1907 to 2006. This dataset was used to assess changes in daily synoptic pressure patterns over Australia in winter using the method of self-organizing maps (SOMs). Twenty patterns derived from the in situ pressure observations were mapped to patterns derived from ERA-40 data to create daily synoptic pressure fields for the past century. Changes in the frequencies of these patterns were analyzed. The patterns that have been decreasing in frequency were generally those most strongly linked to variations in the southern annular mode (SAM) index, while patterns that have increased in frequency were more strongly correlated with variations in the positive phase of El Niño–Southern Oscillation. In general, there has been a reduction in the rain-bearing systems affecting southern Australia since the beginning of the twentieth century. Over the past century, reductions in the frequencies of synoptic patterns with a marked trough to the south of the country were shown to be linked to significant reductions in severe storms in southeast Australia and decreases in rainfall at four major Australian cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth. Of these, Perth showed the most sustained decline in both the mean and extremes of rainfall linked to changes in the large-scale weather systems affecting Australia over the past century. The results suggest a century-long decline in the frequency of low pressure systems reaching southern Australia, consistent with the southward movement of Southern Hemisphere storm tracks. While most of these trends were not significant, associated changes in rainfall and storminess appear to have had significant impacts in the region.

* Current affiliation: Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Corresponding author address: Lisa Alexander, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. Email: l.alexander@unsw.edu.au

Abstract

A high-quality daily dataset of in situ mean sea level pressure was collated for Australia for the period from 1907 to 2006. This dataset was used to assess changes in daily synoptic pressure patterns over Australia in winter using the method of self-organizing maps (SOMs). Twenty patterns derived from the in situ pressure observations were mapped to patterns derived from ERA-40 data to create daily synoptic pressure fields for the past century. Changes in the frequencies of these patterns were analyzed. The patterns that have been decreasing in frequency were generally those most strongly linked to variations in the southern annular mode (SAM) index, while patterns that have increased in frequency were more strongly correlated with variations in the positive phase of El Niño–Southern Oscillation. In general, there has been a reduction in the rain-bearing systems affecting southern Australia since the beginning of the twentieth century. Over the past century, reductions in the frequencies of synoptic patterns with a marked trough to the south of the country were shown to be linked to significant reductions in severe storms in southeast Australia and decreases in rainfall at four major Australian cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth. Of these, Perth showed the most sustained decline in both the mean and extremes of rainfall linked to changes in the large-scale weather systems affecting Australia over the past century. The results suggest a century-long decline in the frequency of low pressure systems reaching southern Australia, consistent with the southward movement of Southern Hemisphere storm tracks. While most of these trends were not significant, associated changes in rainfall and storminess appear to have had significant impacts in the region.

* Current affiliation: Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Corresponding author address: Lisa Alexander, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. Email: l.alexander@unsw.edu.au

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