Australian Tropical Cyclone Activity: Interannual Prediction and Climate Change

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 8:00 AM
Neville Nicholls, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
It is 35 years since it was first demonstrated that interannual variations in seasonal Australian region tropical cyclone (TC) activity could be predicted using simple indices of the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO). That demonstration (Nicholls, 1979), which was surprising and unexpected at the time, relied on only 25 years of data (1950-1975), but its later confirmation eventually led to the introduction of operational seasonal tropical cyclone activity. It is worth examining how well the ENSO-TC relationship has performed, over the period since 1975. Changes in observational technology, and even how a tropical cyclone is defined, have affected the empirical relationships between ENSO and seasonal activity, and ways to overcome this in forecasting seasonal activity will be discussed. Such changes also complicate the investigation of long-term trends in cyclone activity. The early work linked cyclone activity to local sea surface temperature thereby leading to the expectation that global warming would result in an increase in cyclone activity. But studies in the 1990s (eg., Nicholls et al., 1998) suggested that such an increase in activity was not occurring, neither in the Australian region nor elsewhere. Trends in Australian tropical cyclone activity will be discussed, and the confounding influence of factors such as changes in observational technologies will be examined.

Nicholls, N. 1979. A possible method for predicting seasonal tropical cyclone activity in the Australian region. Mon. Weath. Rev., 107, 1221-1224

Nicholls, N., Landsea, C., and Gill, J., 1998. Recent trends in Australian region tropical cyclone activity. Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics, 65, 197-205.