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Weather and Climate Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  08 Jul 2020

08 Jul 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal WCD.

Extreme wet seasons – their definition and relationship with synoptic scale weather systems

Emmanouil Flaounas, Matthias Röthlisberger, Maxi Boettcher, Michael Sprenger, and Heini Wernli Emmanouil Flaounas et al.
  • Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

Abstract. An extreme aggregation of precipitation on the seasonal timescale, leading to a so-called extreme wet season, can have substantial environmental and socio-economic impacts. In contrast to extreme precipitation events on hourly to daily timescales, which are typically caused by single weather systems, an extreme wet season may be attributed to a combination of different and/or recurring weather systems. In fact, extreme wet seasons may be formed by almost continuously occurring moderate events, or by more frequent and/or more intense short-duration extreme events, or by a combination of these scenarios. This study aims at identifying and statistically characterizing extreme wet seasons around the globe, and elucidating their relationship with specific weather systems.

To define extreme wet seasons, we used 40 years (1979–2018) of ERA-Interim reanalyses. Primary extreme seasons were defined independently at every grid point as the consecutive 90-day period with the highest accumulated precipitation. Secondary extreme seasons were also considered, if accumulated precipitation amounts to at least 90 % of the precipitation in the primary season at the same grid point. A high number of secondary extreme seasons was found for instance in the extratropical storm tracks, suggesting that these regions are less likely to experience an exceptional amount of precipitation in a particular 90-day period. In most continental regions, the extreme seasons occur during the warm months of the year, especially in the mid-latitudes. Nevertheless, colder periods might be also relevant to extreme seasons within the same continent, especially in coastal areas. All identified extreme seasons were statistically characterised in terms of anomalies compared to the climatology of the number of wet days and daily extreme events. Results show that daily extremes are decisive for the occurrence of extreme wet seasons in regions of frequent precipitation, e.g. in the tropics. In contrast, e.g., in arid regions where wet days are scarce, extreme seasons may occur only due to anomalously high numbers of wet days. In the subtropics and more precisely within the transitional zones between arid areas and regions of frequent precipitation, both an anomalously high occurrence of daily extremes and wet days are related to the formation of extreme wet seasons.

The spatial extent of regions affected by the same extreme wet season is variable and can reach continental scales, although the vast majority of extreme seasons is limited to scales of the order of 20 × 105 km2. Finally, the relationship of extreme seasons to synoptic-scale weather systems was investigated on the basis of four objectively identified weather systems that are known to be associated with intense precipitation: cyclones, warm conveyor belts, tropical moisture exports and breaking Rossby waves. A grid-to-grid association of these weather systems to daily precipitation allows quantifying their role for extreme wet seasons. In particular, cyclones and warm conveyor belts contribute strongly to extreme wet seasons in most regions of the globe. But interlatitudinal influences are also shown to be important: tropical moisture exports, i.e., the poleward transport of tropical moisture, can contribute to extreme wet seasons in the mid-latitudes, while breaking Rossby waves, i.e., the equatorward intrusion of stratospheric air, may decisively contribute to the formation of extreme wet seasons in the tropics. Four illustrative examples provide insight into the synergetic effects of the four identified weather systems on the formation of extreme wet seasons in the Arctic, the mid-latitudes, Australia, and the tropics.

Emmanouil Flaounas et al.

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Emmanouil Flaounas et al.

Emmanouil Flaounas et al.


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