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Thomas H. Chubb, Steven T. Siems, and Michael J. Manton

Abstract

Data from a precipitation gauge network in the Snowy Mountains of southeastern Australia have been analyzed to produce a new climatology of wintertime precipitation and airmass history for the region in the period 1990–2009. Precipitation amounts on the western slopes and in the high elevations (>1000 m) of the Snowy Mountains region have experienced a decline in precipitation in excess of the general decline in southeastern Australia. The contrast in the decline east and west of the ranges suggests that factors influencing orographic precipitation are of particular importance. A synoptic decomposition of precipitation events has been performed, which demonstrates that about 57% of the wintertime precipitation may be attributed to storms associated with “cutoff lows” (equatorward of 45°S). A further 40% was found to be due to “embedded lows,” with the remainder due to Australian east coast lows and several other sporadically occurring events. The declining trend in wintertime precipitation over the past two decades is most clearly seen in the intensity of precipitation due to cutoff lows and coincides with a decline in the number of systems associated with a cold frontal passage. Airmass history during precipitation events was represented by back trajectories calculated from ECMWF Interim Reanalysis data, and statistics of air parcel position were related to observations of precipitation intensity. This approach gives insight into sources of moisture during wintertime storms, identifying “moisture corridors,” which are typically important for transport of water vapor from remote sources to the Snowy Mountains region. The prevalence of these moisture corridors is associated with the southern annular mode, which corresponds to fluctuations in the strength of the westerly winds in southeastern Australia.

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