Multiscale Influences on Rainfall in Northeast Australia

Thi Lan Dao aSchool of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
bARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Claire L. Vincent aSchool of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
bARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Todd P. Lane aSchool of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
bARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

This study examines the multiscale modulation of mean and extreme rainfall in Northeast (NE) Australia under different background modes of variability, which is a new aspect given the high-resolution and long-term observational datasets. Daily rainfall probability is significantly modified by the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), and its influence varies with the seasons and is associated with atmospheric circulation anomalies. Rainfall generally decreases during El Niño and increases during La Niña years; however, there is a notable spatial nuance to El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-associated extreme rainfall, with some locations showing the opposite precipitation response to the typical ENSO–rainfall relationship. Despite more precipitation overall in La Niña years, the mean and extreme precipitation responses to the MJO appear to be stronger and more often statistically significant during El Niño compared to La Niña periods. The impact of ENSO on the MJO–rainfall relationship is stronger than the variation of the MJO itself with ENSO, and likely reflects a change in the MJO modulation of rain-bearing atmospheric processes. During El Niño periods, diurnal rainfall amplitude is generally stronger in the central and southern subtropical parts of the study area than during La Niña periods, while the opposite tendency occurs in the northern tropical part. The diurnal cycle of both mean and extreme precipitation is amplified during suppressed convection phases compared to enhanced convection phases of the MJO. In general, the peak time of diurnal cycle does not change with MJO regimes, but there are some notable differences in rainfall propagation between enhanced and suppressed MJO phases.

Significance Statement

This study presents a new perspective on the relationship between precipitation in Northeast (NE) Australia and two important climate modes, the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Rainfall in NE Australia is strongly influenced by the MJO, ENSO, and their interaction, suggesting that climate models need to capture both individual climate modes and their interactions for reliable rainfall projections. These findings have societal climate risk implications, as NE Australia is an area prone to catastrophic flooding due to extreme rainfall.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Thi Lan Dao, thiland@student.unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

This study examines the multiscale modulation of mean and extreme rainfall in Northeast (NE) Australia under different background modes of variability, which is a new aspect given the high-resolution and long-term observational datasets. Daily rainfall probability is significantly modified by the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), and its influence varies with the seasons and is associated with atmospheric circulation anomalies. Rainfall generally decreases during El Niño and increases during La Niña years; however, there is a notable spatial nuance to El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-associated extreme rainfall, with some locations showing the opposite precipitation response to the typical ENSO–rainfall relationship. Despite more precipitation overall in La Niña years, the mean and extreme precipitation responses to the MJO appear to be stronger and more often statistically significant during El Niño compared to La Niña periods. The impact of ENSO on the MJO–rainfall relationship is stronger than the variation of the MJO itself with ENSO, and likely reflects a change in the MJO modulation of rain-bearing atmospheric processes. During El Niño periods, diurnal rainfall amplitude is generally stronger in the central and southern subtropical parts of the study area than during La Niña periods, while the opposite tendency occurs in the northern tropical part. The diurnal cycle of both mean and extreme precipitation is amplified during suppressed convection phases compared to enhanced convection phases of the MJO. In general, the peak time of diurnal cycle does not change with MJO regimes, but there are some notable differences in rainfall propagation between enhanced and suppressed MJO phases.

Significance Statement

This study presents a new perspective on the relationship between precipitation in Northeast (NE) Australia and two important climate modes, the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Rainfall in NE Australia is strongly influenced by the MJO, ENSO, and their interaction, suggesting that climate models need to capture both individual climate modes and their interactions for reliable rainfall projections. These findings have societal climate risk implications, as NE Australia is an area prone to catastrophic flooding due to extreme rainfall.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Thi Lan Dao, thiland@student.unimelb.edu.au

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