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Gareth J. Berry
and
Michael J. Reeder

Abstract

The wet season of the Australian monsoon is characterized by subseasonal periods of excessively wet or dry conditions, commonly known as monsoon bursts and breaks. This study is concerned with the synoptic evolution prior to monsoon bursts, which are defined here by abrupt transitions of the area-averaged rainfall over the tropical parts of the Australian continent.

There is large variability in the number of monsoon bursts from year to year and in the time interval between consecutive monsoon bursts. Reanalysis data are used to construct a lag composite of the sequence of events prior to a monsoon burst. It is determined that a burst in the Australian monsoon is preceded by the development of a well-defined extratropical wave packet in the Indian Ocean, which propagates toward the Australian continent in the few days leading up to the onset of heavy rainfall in the tropics. As in previous studies on the monsoon onset, the extratropical disturbances propagate equatorward over the Australian continent. These extratropical systems are accompanied by lower-tropospheric airmass boundaries, which also propagate into low latitudes. Ahead of these boundaries, relatively warm moist air is advected from the surrounding oceans, locally increasing the convective available potential energy.

Commonly employed climate indices show that monsoon bursts are more likely to occur when the active phase of the Madden–Julian oscillation is in the vicinity of Australia. Neither El Niño–Southern Oscillation nor the southern annular mode has a significant impact on the occurrence of monsoon bursts.

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Gareth J. Berry
and
Chris Thorncroft

Abstract

The life cycle of an intense African easterly wave (AEW) over the African continent is examined using European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) operational analyses, Meteosat satellite images, and synoptic observations. This system, the strongest AEW of 2000, can be tracked from central North Africa into the eastern Atlantic Ocean, where it is associated with the genesis of Hurricane Alberto. Synoptic analysis of the kinematic and thermodynamic fields is supplemented by analysis of potential vorticity (PV), allowing exploration at the role of multiple scales in the evolution of this AEW.

The authors’ analysis promotes the division of the AEW life cycle into three distinctive phases. (i) Initiation: The AEW development is preceded by a large convective event composed of several mesoscale convective systems over elevated terrain in Sudan. This convection provides a forcing on the baroclinically and barotropically unstable state that exists over tropical North Africa. (ii) Baroclinic growth: A low-level warm anomaly, generated close to the initial convection, interacts with a midtropospheric strip of high PV that exists on the cyclonic shear side of the African easterly jet, which is consistent with baroclinic growth. This interaction is reinforced by the generation of subsynoptic-scale PV anomalies by deep convection that is embedded within the baroclinic AEW structure. (iii) West coast development: Near the West African coast, the baroclinic structure weakens, but convection is maintained. The midtropospheric PV anomalies embedded within the AEW merge with one another and with PV anomalies that are generated by convection over topography ahead of the system. These mergers result in the production of a significant PV feature that leaves the West African coast and rapidly undergoes tropical cyclogenesis.

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Gareth J. Berry
and
Chris D. Thorncroft

Abstract

To examine the dynamical role of convection in African easterly wave (AEW) life cycles the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model is used to simulate the evolution of a single AEW from September 2004. The model simulations are validated against corresponding numerical weather prediction analyses and the mean fields closely resemble composite structures from previous studies. A potential vorticity (PV) thinking approach is used to highlight the interactions between dynamics and convection.

Organized deep convection embedded within the AEW has a large contribution to the synoptic-scale mean PV and energetics of the AEW. The PV tendency is maximized in the lower troposphere, consistent with the vertical gradient in diabatic heating rates in the areas of convection. By examining terms in the Lorenz energy cycle, it is shown that diabatic heating associated with convection is as important as adiabatic energy conversion in producing eddy available potential energy of the synoptic AEW, implying that AEWs are best described as hybrid adiabatic and diabatic structures. The net effect of convection is succinctly described using a simulation whereby the parameterizations associated with convection are switched off at the midpoint of the model run. This perturbation experiment shows that, although the AEW continues to propagate westward with a similar phase speed, the net PV value continually weakens with time. This result proves that convection is vital for the maintenance of the AEW as it propagates across West Africa and suggests that without active convection the synoptic AEW cannot persist for an extended length of time.

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Gareth Berry
and
Michael J. Reeder

Abstract

An objective method for the identification of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) in gridded numerical weather prediction datasets is presented. This technique uses layer- and time-averaged winds in the lower troposphere to automatically detect the location of the ITCZ and is designed for use with datasets including operational forecasts and climate model output. The method is used to create a climatology of ITCZ properties from the Interim ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) dataset for the period 1979–2009 to serve as an indicator of the technique's ability and a benchmark for future comparisons. The automatically generated objective climatology closely matches the results from subjective studies, showing a seasonal cycle in which the oceanic ITCZ migrates meridionally and the land-based ITCZ features are predominantly summertime phenomena. Composites based on the phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation index show a major shift in the mean position and changes in intensity of the ITCZ in all ocean basins as the index varies. Under La Niña conditions, the ITCZ intensifies over the Maritime Continent and eastern Pacific, where the ITCZ weakens over the central and equatorial eastern Pacific. An analysis of changes in the ITCZ and its divergence during the period 1979–2009 indicates that the mean position of the ITCZ shifts southward in the western Pacific and a broad global intensification of the convergence into ITCZ regions. The relationship between tropical cyclogenesis and the ITCZ is also examined, finding that more than 50% of all tropical cyclones form within 600 km of the ITCZ.

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Gareth Berry
,
Michael J. Reeder
, and
Christian Jakob

Abstract

Summertime (December–February) rainfall over northwestern Australia has increased significantly since the middle of the twentieth century. As a prerequisite to understanding the observed trend, this investigation examines the broad characteristics of rainfall and identifies the physical mechanisms by which rainfall in the region is initiated. This is achieved using a combination of in situ, spaceborne, and numerical reanalysis datasets.

Hourly pluviograph data and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM)-3B42 dataset show distinctly different diurnal cycles of rainfall in different geographical subregions; near the coast, rainfall rates peak in the midafternoon, whereas inland (near the maximum rainfall trend) the rainfall rate is largest overnight. These data also indicate that most of the summertime rain falls in events lasting 2–5 days. Analysis of the ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) demonstrates that convergence into the continental heat low controls the diurnal cycle of rainfall but cannot explain the synoptic variability.

Composites of wet and dry conditions from ERA-Interim expose synoptic-scale differences in the environmental flow. Prior to rain falling in the interior of northwestern Australia, there is a distinct shift in the origins of low-level air parcels, such that air with high convective available potential energy is advected from the tropical maritime regions, rather than from over the continent. Preliminary analysis suggests that these flow changes may be linked to transient synoptic disturbances such as midlatitude cyclones and monsoon lows. Rather than reflecting a large-scale change in the ocean state, these results imply that the observed increase in rainfall may be linked more closely to changes in the synoptic weather systems.

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Teresa J. Parker
,
Gareth J. Berry
, and
Michael J. Reeder

Abstract

The underlying large-scale dynamical processes responsible for the development of heat waves in Victoria, southeastern Australia, in summer are presented here. Heat waves are defined as periods of at least three days and two nights for which daily maximum and minimum temperatures exceed the 90th percentile for a particular location and month, using a station daily temperature dataset. Composites of upper-level potential vorticity anomalies from the Interim ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) reveal that heat waves in southeastern Australia are associated with propagating Rossby waves, which grow in amplitude and eventually overturn. The process of overturning generates an upper-level anticyclone over southern Australia and an upper-level trough to the northeast, with maximum amplitudes near the tropopause. The northerly flow associated with the circulation around the surface anticyclone advects hot air from the continental interior over the southeast of Australia, leading to extreme surface temperatures. Composite rainfall shows that precipitation is enhanced in the vicinity of the upper-level trough over northeastern Australia, consistent with adiabatically forced vertical motion, destabilization of the atmosphere, and modified moisture fluxes. Heat waves in the southeast are frequently accompanied by heavy rainfall over the northeast of the continent and adjacent ocean.

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Gareth J. Berry
,
Michael J. Reeder
, and
Christian Jakob

Abstract

Coherent synoptic-scale weather systems within the Australian monsoon are identified and tracked in the isentropic potential vorticity (PV) field from the ECMWF Interim Reanalysis (ERA-Interim) dataset during the Southern Hemisphere summer. The resulting dataset is then used to compile statistics and synoptic composites of Australian monsoon disturbances. On average, a synoptic system is found in the region every 2.5 days. However, the time interval between consecutive events is highly variable, meaning that the synoptic activity in the Australian monsoon is not well represented by commonly employed spectral techniques. The analysis reveals that most synoptic systems originate within the Australian monsoon, but at the 315-K level (approximately 700 hPa) a significant proportion of systems are first detected near the east coast of the continent where extratropical Rossby waves are observed to frequently break.

The average Australian monsoon weather system propagates from east to west at approximately 6 m s−1 and has a characteristic length scale of 2000 km. Synoptic composite structures show some resemblance to African easterly waves; they move along a midtropospheric (approximately 700 hPa) easterly wind maximum and have peak meridional winds at this level. Composite rainfall shows that rainfall is significantly enhanced ahead (west) of the synoptic PV maximum and suppressed behind. It is estimated that in some parts of northwestern Australia 40%–50% of the summertime rainfall occurs with a tracked monsoon disturbance in the vicinity.

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