A comparison of automated methods of front recognition for climate studies: a case study in southwest Western Australia

Pandora Hope, Kevin Keay, Michael Pook, Jennifer Catto, Ian Simmonds, Graham Mills, Peter McIntosh, James Risbey, Gareth Berry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


The identification of extratropical fronts in reanalyses and climate models is an important climate diagnostic that aids dynamical understanding and model verification. This study compares six frontal identification methods that are applied to June and July reanalysis data over the Central Wheatbelt of southwest Western Australia for 1979–2006. Much of the winter rainfall over this region originates from frontal systems. Five of the methods use automated algorithms. These make use of different approaches, based on shifts in 850-hPa winds (WND), gradients of temperature (TGR) and wet-bulb potential temperature (WPT), pattern matching (PMM), and a self-organizing map (SOM). The sixth method was a manual synoptic technique (MAN). On average, about 50% of rain days were associated with fronts in most schemes (although methods PMM and SOM exhibited a lower percentage). On a daily basis, most methods identify the same systems more than 50% of the time, and over the 28-yr period the seasonal time series correlate strongly. The association with rainfall is less clear. The WND time series of seasonal frontal counts correlate significantly with Central Wheatbelt rainfall. All automated methods identify fronts on some days that are classified as cutoff lows in the manual analysis, which will impact rainfall correlations. The front numbers identified on all days by the automated methods decline from 1979 to 2006 (but only the TGR and WPT trends were significant at the 10% level). The results here highlight that automated techniques have value in understanding frontal behavior and can be used to identify the changes in the frequency of frontal systems through time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-363
Number of pages21
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

Cite this