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Australian Northwest Cloudbands and Their Relationship to Atmospheric Rivers and Precipitation

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  • 1 CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
  • | 2 The Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
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Abstract

Large-scale cloud features referred to as cloudbands are known to be related to widespread and heavy rain via the transport of tropical heat and moisture to higher latitudes. The Australian northwest cloudband is such a feature that has been identified in simple searches of satellite imagery but with limited investigation of its atmospheric dynamical support. An accurate, long-term climatology of northwest cloudbands is key to robustly assessing these events. A dynamically based search algorithm has been developed that is guided by the presence and orientation of the subtropical jet stream. This jet stream is the large-scale atmospheric feature that determines the development and alignment of a cloudband. Using a new 40-yr dataset of cloudband events compiled by this search algorithm, composite atmospheric and ocean surface conditions over the period 1979–2018 have been assessed. Composite cloudband upper-level flow revealed a tilted low pressure trough embedded in a Rossby wave train. Composites of vertically integrated water vapor transport centered around the jet maximum during northwest cloudband events reveal a distinct atmospheric river supplying tropical moisture for cloudband rainfall. Parcel backtracking indicated multiple regions of moisture support for cloudbands. A thermal wind anomaly orientated with respect to an enhanced sea surface temperature gradient over the Indian Ocean was also a key composite cloudband feature. A total of 300 years of a freely coupled control simulation of the ACCESS-D system was assessed for its ability to simulate northwest cloudbands. Composite analysis of model cloudbands compared reasonably well to reanalysis despite some differences in seasonality and frequency of occurrence.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/MWR-D-20-0308.s1.

© 2021 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: Amanda S. Black, amanda.black@csiro.au

Abstract

Large-scale cloud features referred to as cloudbands are known to be related to widespread and heavy rain via the transport of tropical heat and moisture to higher latitudes. The Australian northwest cloudband is such a feature that has been identified in simple searches of satellite imagery but with limited investigation of its atmospheric dynamical support. An accurate, long-term climatology of northwest cloudbands is key to robustly assessing these events. A dynamically based search algorithm has been developed that is guided by the presence and orientation of the subtropical jet stream. This jet stream is the large-scale atmospheric feature that determines the development and alignment of a cloudband. Using a new 40-yr dataset of cloudband events compiled by this search algorithm, composite atmospheric and ocean surface conditions over the period 1979–2018 have been assessed. Composite cloudband upper-level flow revealed a tilted low pressure trough embedded in a Rossby wave train. Composites of vertically integrated water vapor transport centered around the jet maximum during northwest cloudband events reveal a distinct atmospheric river supplying tropical moisture for cloudband rainfall. Parcel backtracking indicated multiple regions of moisture support for cloudbands. A thermal wind anomaly orientated with respect to an enhanced sea surface temperature gradient over the Indian Ocean was also a key composite cloudband feature. A total of 300 years of a freely coupled control simulation of the ACCESS-D system was assessed for its ability to simulate northwest cloudbands. Composite analysis of model cloudbands compared reasonably well to reanalysis despite some differences in seasonality and frequency of occurrence.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/MWR-D-20-0308.s1.

© 2021 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: Amanda S. Black, amanda.black@csiro.au

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