Large-scale drivers of Australian East Coast Cyclones since 1851

Stuart A. Browning*, Ian D. Goodwin

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    15 Citations (Scopus)


    Subtropical maritime low-pressure systems are one of the most complex and destructive storm types to impact Australia's eastern seaboard. This family of storms, commonly referred to as East Coast Cyclones (ECC), is most active during the late autumn and early winter period when baroclinicity increases in the Tasman Sea region. ECC have proven challenging to forecast at both event and seasonal timescales. Storm activity datasets, objectively determined from reanalyses using cyclone detection algorithms, have improved understanding of the drivers of ECC over the era of satellite data coverage. In this study we attempt to extend these datasets back to 1851 using the Twentieth Century Reanalysis version 2c (20CRv2c). However, uncertainty in the 20CRv2c increases back through time due to observational data scarcity, and individual cyclones counts tend to be underestimated during the 19th century. An alternative approach is explored whereby storm activity is estimated from seasonal atmosphere-ocean circulation patterns. Seasonal ECC frequency over the 1955 to 2014 period is significantly correlated to regional sea-level pressure and sea surface temperature (SST) patterns. These patterns are used to downscale the 20CRv2c during early years when individual events are not well simulated. The stormiest periods since 1851 appear to have been 1870 to the early 1890s, and 1950 to the early 1970s. Total storm activity has been below the long-term average for most winters since 1976. Conditions conducive to frequent ECC events tend to occur during periods of relatively warm SST in the southwest Pacific typical of negative Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO-ve). Extratropical cyclogenesis is associated with negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM-ve) and blocking in the southern Tasman Sea. Subtropical cyclogenesis is associated with SAM+ve and blocking in the central Tasman Sea. While the downscaling approach shows some skill at estimating seasonal storm activity from the large-scale circulation, it cannot overcome data scarcity based uncertainties in the 19th century when the 20CRv2c is effectively unconstrained throughout most of the southern hemisphere. Storm frequency estimates during the 19th century are difficult to verify and should be interpreted cautiously and with reference to available documentary evidence.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)125-151
    Number of pages27
    JournalJournal of Southern Hemisphere Earth Systems Science
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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