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Matt Hawcroft
,
Sally Lavender
,
Dan Copsey
,
Sean Milton
,
José Rodríguez
,
Warren Tennant
,
Stuart Webster
, and
Tim Cowan

Abstract

From late January to early February 2019, a quasi-stationary monsoon depression situated over northeast Australia caused devastating floods. During the first week of February, when the event had its greatest impact in northwest Queensland, record-breaking precipitation accumulations were observed in several locations, accompanied by strong winds, substantial cold maximum temperature anomalies, and related wind chill. In spite of the extreme nature of the event, the monthly rainfall outlook for February issued by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology on 31 January provided no indication of the event. In this study, we evaluate the dynamics of the event and assess how predictable it was across a suite of ensemble model forecasts using the Met Office numerical weather prediction (NWP) system, focusing on a 1-week lead time. In doing so, we demonstrate the skill of the NWP system in predicting the possibility of such an extreme event occurring. We further evaluate the benefits derived from running the ensemble prediction system at higher resolution than used operationally at the Met Office and with a fully coupled dynamical ocean. We show that the primary forecast errors are generated locally, with key sources of these errors including atmosphere–ocean coupling and a known bias associated with the behavior of the convection scheme around the coast. We note that a relatively low-resolution ensemble approach requires limited computing resources, yet has the capacity in this event to provide useful information to decision-makers with over a week’s notice, beyond the duration of many operational deterministic forecasts.

Open access