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The Australian Northwest Cloudband: Climatology, Mechanisms, and Association with Precipitation

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  • 1 School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • 2 School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  • 3 School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

Australian northwest cloudbands (NWCBs) are continental-scale bands of continuous cloud that stretch from northwest to southeast Australia. In earlier studies, where the characteristics of NWCBs and their relationship with precipitation were identified from satellite imagery, there was considerable uncertainty in the results due to limited quality and availability of data. The present study identifies NWCBs from 31 years of satellite data using a pattern-matching algorithm. This new climatology is the longest record based entirely on observations. Our findings include a strong annual cycle in NWCB frequency, with a summer maximum and winter minimum, and a statistically significant increase in annual NWCB days over the period 1984–2014. Physical mechanisms responsible for NWCB occurrences are explored to determine whether there is a fundamental difference between summer and winter NWCBs as hypothesized in earlier studies. Composite analyses are used to reveal that a key difference between these is their genesis mechanisms. Whereas summer NWCBs are triggered by cyclonic disturbances, winter NWCBs tend to form when meridional sea surface temperature gradients trigger baroclinic instability. It was also found that while precipitation is enhanced over parts of Australia during a cloudband day, it is reduced in other regions. During a cloudband day, precipitation extremes are more likely over northwest, central, and southeast Australia, while the probability of extreme precipitation decreases in northeast and southwest Australia. Additionally, cold fronts and NWCBs can interact, leading to enhanced rainfall over Australia.

ORCID: 0000-0001-5972-6015.

ORCID: 0000-0002-4479-3255.

ORCID: 0000-0001-5315-1644.

ORCID: 0000-0001-9006-5745.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Kimberley J. Reid, kimberleyr@student.unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

Australian northwest cloudbands (NWCBs) are continental-scale bands of continuous cloud that stretch from northwest to southeast Australia. In earlier studies, where the characteristics of NWCBs and their relationship with precipitation were identified from satellite imagery, there was considerable uncertainty in the results due to limited quality and availability of data. The present study identifies NWCBs from 31 years of satellite data using a pattern-matching algorithm. This new climatology is the longest record based entirely on observations. Our findings include a strong annual cycle in NWCB frequency, with a summer maximum and winter minimum, and a statistically significant increase in annual NWCB days over the period 1984–2014. Physical mechanisms responsible for NWCB occurrences are explored to determine whether there is a fundamental difference between summer and winter NWCBs as hypothesized in earlier studies. Composite analyses are used to reveal that a key difference between these is their genesis mechanisms. Whereas summer NWCBs are triggered by cyclonic disturbances, winter NWCBs tend to form when meridional sea surface temperature gradients trigger baroclinic instability. It was also found that while precipitation is enhanced over parts of Australia during a cloudband day, it is reduced in other regions. During a cloudband day, precipitation extremes are more likely over northwest, central, and southeast Australia, while the probability of extreme precipitation decreases in northeast and southwest Australia. Additionally, cold fronts and NWCBs can interact, leading to enhanced rainfall over Australia.

ORCID: 0000-0001-5972-6015.

ORCID: 0000-0002-4479-3255.

ORCID: 0000-0001-5315-1644.

ORCID: 0000-0001-9006-5745.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Kimberley J. Reid, kimberleyr@student.unimelb.edu.au
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