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Wasyl Drosdowsky
and
Matthew C. Wheeler

Abstract

A forecast product focusing on the onset of the north Australian wet season using a dynamical ocean–atmosphere model is developed and verified. Onset is defined to occur when a threshold rainfall accumulation of 50 mm is reached from 1 September. This amount has been shown to be useful for agricultural applications, as it is about what is required to generate new plant growth after the usually dry period of June–August. The normal (median) onset date occurs first around Darwin in the north and Cairns in the east in late October, and is progressively later for locations farther inland away from these locations. However, there is significant interannual variability in the onset, and skillful predictions of this can be valuable. The potential of the Predictive Ocean–Atmosphere Model for Australia (POAMA), version 2, for making probabilistic predictions of onset, derived from its multimember ensemble, is shown. Using 50 yr of hindcasts, POAMA is found to skillfully predict the variability of onset, despite a generally dry bias, with the “percent correct” exceeding 70% over about a third of the Northern Territory. In comparison to a previously developed statistical method based solely on El Niño–Southern Oscillation, the POAMA system shows improved skill scores, suggesting that it gains from additional sources of predictability. However, the POAMA hindcasts do not reproduce the observed long-term trend in onset dates over inland regions to an earlier date despite being initialized with the observed warming ocean temperatures. Understanding and modeling this trend should lead to further enhancements in skill.

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Tim Cowan
,
Matthew C. Wheeler
,
S. Sharmila
,
Sugata Narsey
, and
Catherine de Burgh-Day

Abstract

Rainfall bursts are relatively short-lived events that typically occur over consecutive days, up to a week. Northern Australian industries like sugar farming and beef are highly sensitive to burst activity, yet little is known about the multiweek prediction of bursts. This study evaluates summer (December–March) bursts over northern Australia in observations and multiweek hindcasts from the Bureau of Meteorology’s multiweek to seasonal system, the Australian Community Climate and Earth-System Simulator, Seasonal version 1 (ACCESS-S1). The main objective is to test ACCESS-S1’s skill to confidently predict tropical burst activity, defined as rainfall accumulation exceeding a threshold amount over three days, for the purpose of producing a practical, user-friendly burst forecast product. The ensemble hindcasts, made up of 11 members for the period 1990–2012, display good predictive skill out to lead week 2 in the far northern regions, despite overestimating the total number of summer burst days and the proportion of total summer rainfall from bursts. Coinciding with a predicted strong Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), the skill in burst event prediction can be extended out to four weeks over the far northern coast in December; however, this improvement is not apparent in other months or over the far northeast, which shows generally better forecast skill with a predicted weak MJO. The ability of ACCESS-S1 to skillfully forecast bursts out to 2–3 weeks suggests the bureau’s recent prototype development of a burst potential forecast product would be of great interest to northern Australia’s livestock and crop producers, who rely on accurate multiweek rainfall forecasts for managing business decisions.

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