Exploring atmospheric circulation leading to three anomalous Australian spring heat events

Abstract

Australian maximum temperatures have reached record values in recent austral springs and are projected to increase further in a warming world. We focus on three record spring heat events in September 2013, October–November 2014 and October 2015, and examine the anomalous atmospheric circulation associated with these events in reanalysis and a sub-seasonal to seasonal prediction system, POAMA, to identify factors contributing to extreme heat over Australia. We find that an anomalous equivalent barotropic cyclonic circulation southwest of Australia and a quasi-stationary wave train formed by an upper-troposphere anticyclonic circulation over southern Australia and barotropic cyclone southeast of Australia are important features in these heat events, though the wave train was only observed in the latter two events. This wave train appears to be linked to the tropics, and particularly the tropical Indian Ocean, suggesting that teleconnections to the tropical Indian Ocean can be important for monthly spring extreme heat formation in Australia. However, the forecast relationship with the tropical Pacific Ocean was over-represented at the cost of the relationship between the Indian Ocean and upper-troposphere anomaly, limiting the ability of POAMA to forecast the full extent of the month- or 2 month-long heat extremes at zero lead time. This means that the model might underestimate the magnitude of future extreme heat events in spring, a factor that should be assessed in the next generation of seasonal forecast models.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CE170100023). R.C.M. was also supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship and a Bureau of Meteorology PhD Top-up scholarship. J.M.A. was partially supported by the Regional and Global Model Analysis component of the Earth and Environmental System Modeling Program of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Biological & Environmental Research via National Science Foundation IA 1947282, E.-P.L. was partially supported by the Forewarned is Forearmed project, which is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture. PH was supported by funding the Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub of the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Program (NESP). We thank M. Wheeler and G. Boschat at the Bureau of Meteorology for their constructive feedback on the manuscript. We thank G. Wang and H. Hendon also at the Bureau of Meteorology for their assistance with writing code for analysis and their helpful insights into the data. This research was undertaken at the NCI National Facility in Canberra, Australia, which is supported by the Australian Commonwealth Government. The NCAR Command Language (NCL; http://www.ncl.ucar.edu) version 6.4.0 was used for data analysis and visualization of the results. The authors thank Dr. George Kiladis and one anonymous reviewer for their insightful comments that significantly improved the clarity of this paper.

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McKay, R.C., Arblaster, J.M., Hope, P. et al. Exploring atmospheric circulation leading to three anomalous Australian spring heat events. Clim Dyn (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-020-05580-0

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