, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 37-48

A study of climate and weather variability over the tropical southwest Indian Ocean

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Summary

The climatology and variability of summer convection and circulation over the tropical southwest Indian Ocean is investigated using satellite imagery, routine synoptic observations, outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) data, sea surface temperatures (SST) and areal averaged rainfall departures. OLR has a −0.90 correlation with rainfall departures and the OLR minimum (ITCZ) in January and February lies across the 10°S latitude, extending further south near Madagascar. The intensity of ITCZ convection is greatest in the longitudes 20–35°E over northern Zambia and is considerably reduced over the SW Indian Ocean. Spatial correlations are analyzed for standardized departures of OLR, rainfall and SST. The correlations change sign in a coherent fashion, creating a climatic dipole between southern Africa and the SW Indian Ocean. Interannual trends are examined through analysis of January–February zonal and meridional wind indices constructed from significantly correlated variables at Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Mauritius. Circulation variability is dominated by quasi-decadal cycles and a trend of inereasing westerly winds. Zonal wind shear alternates from easterly (barotropic) to westerly and together with SST appears to regulate the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclogenesis. Areally averaged rainfall departures exhibit 6.25 year cycles in NE Madagascar and 12.5 and 18.75 year cycles in SW Madagascar and Zimbabwe, respectively. Summer rainfall and meridional winds in NE Madagascar and Zimbabwe are out of phase and negatively correlated in most summers. The presence of synoptic weather systems is assessed using daily Hovmoller-type satellite imagery composites. Convective structure is dominated by transient waves in the 10°–20°S latitude band, with periods of 15–20 days common. The waves are more prominent in summers with increased easterly shear and contribute to fluctuations in rainfall over SE Africa.

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