A weather system perspective on winter–spring rainfall variability in southeastern Australia during El Niño

Seraphine Hauser, Christian M. Grams, Michael J. Reeder, Shayne McGregor, Andreas H. Fink, Julian F. Quinting

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6 Citations (Scopus)


The El Niño phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is typically associated with below-average cool-season rainfall in southeastern Australia (SEA). However, there is also large case-to-case variability on monthly time-scales. Despite recent progress in understanding the links between remote climate drivers and this variability, the underlying dynamical processes are not fully understood. This reanalysis-based study aims to advance the dynamical understanding by quantifying the contribution of midlatitude weather systems to monthly precipitation anomalies over SEA during the austral winter–spring season. A k-means clustering reveals four rainfall anomaly patterns with above-average rainfall (Cluster 1), below-average rainfall (Cluster 2), above-average rainfall along the East Coast (Cluster 3) and along the South Coast (Cluster 4). Cluster 2 occurs most frequently during El Niño, which highlights the general suppression of SEA rainfall during these events. However, the remaining three clusters with local above-average rainfall are found in ∼52% of all El Niño months. Changes of weather system frequency determine the respective rainfall anomaly pattern. Results indicate significantly more cut-off lows and warm conveyor belts (WCBs) over SEA in El Niño Cluster 1 and significantly fewer in El Niño Cluster 2. In El Niño Cluster 3, enhanced blocking south of Australia favours cut-off lows leading to increased rainfall along the East Coast. Positive rainfall anomalies along the South Coast in El Niño Cluster 4 are associated with frontal rainfall due to an equatorward shift of the midlatitude storm track. Most of the rainfall is produced by WCBs and cut-off lows but the contributions strongly vary between the clusters. In all clusters, rainfall anomalies result from changes in rainfall frequency more than in rainfall intensity. Backward trajectories of WCB and cut-off low rainfall highlight the importance of moist air masses from the Coral Sea and the northwest coast of Australia during wet months.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2614-2633
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number731
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


  • backward trajectories
  • clustering
  • El Niño
  • rainfall decomposition
  • rainfall origin
  • rainfall variability
  • southeastern Australia
  • synoptic weather systems

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