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INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CLIMATOLOGY, VOL. 17, 55–66 (1997)
REGIONAL INDICES OF CLIMATE VARIATION: TEMPERATURE AND
RAINFALL IN QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA
J. M. LOUGH
Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB 3, Townsville MC, Queensland 4810, Australia
email: j-lough@aims.gov.an
Received 2 November 1995
Revised 27 March 1996
Accepted 20 May 1996
ABSTRACT
Indices of temperature and rainfall are developed for Queensland, Australia as an aid to monitoring climate variation and
change. The rainfall index is based on 17 stations and extends from 1890. The temperature index is based on six stations and
extends from 1910. These series can be updated promptly and although based on a small number of stations appear to reflect
the major climate variations in Queensland over the past century. There is no significant trend towards wetter or drier
conditions in Queensland in either summer or winter. Although the State has recently suffered from an extended drought, this
dry period does not appear to be particularly unusual in the 105–year record. In contrast, average and minimum temperatures
and the daily temperature range show significant trends since 1910 in both summer and winter. Minimum temperatures have
increased and the daily temperature range has decreased, especially in the early winter season, April–May.
Int. J. Climatol., Vol. 17, 55–66 (1977) (No. of figures: 6
KEY WORDS:
No. of tables: 2
No. of refs: 21)
Queensland; Australia; trend; rainfall; temperature; regional indices; ENSO.
INTRODUCTION
There is growing awareness of the possible consequences of global climate change. Yet to many people the
concern is how climate may vary or is varying at the regional level. The enhanced greenhouse scenario suggests
that temperatures in Australia may rise by 1–2 C, summer rainfall may increase, and the frequency of highrainfall and flooding events may also increase (Whetton, 1993; Whetton et al., 1993). Such a scenario is difficult
to grasp for those living in Queensland and parts of eastern Australia which have been subject to a ‘severe and
persistent’ drought since 1991 (Bureau of Meteorology, 1995). This extended drought is largely a result of a
prolonged El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event.
Observational studies, however, lend some support to these projected changes. Over the period 1910 to 1988,
summer rainfall appears to have increased over much of eastern Australia (Nicholls and Lavery, 1992.) This
increase occurred rather abruptly about 1950, confirming earlier findings (e.g. Pittock, 1975). There is also
evidence that annual rainfall intensity and the frequency of heavy rainfall events have increased over tropical
Australia over the period 1910 to 1989 (Suppiah and Hennessy, 1996). Observational studies also provide
evidence of temperature increases over Australia (e.g. Jones et al., 1990; Plummer, 1991). These temperature
changes have been greater for minimum than maximum temperatures with a consequent decline in the daily
temperature range (DTR) in recent decades (Plummer et al., 1994), matching trends in DTR found in other parts
of the world (Karl et al., 1993). Some of these trends in Australian climate over recent decades have also been
identified in climate regions of the south-west Pacific (Salinger et al., 1995).
The purpose of the present study is twofold: (i) development of indices of temperature and rainfall variations in
Queensland (which encompasses 26 per cent of the land area of Australia) based on a small number of stations
which can be readily up-dated and, therefore, monitored for change; and (ii) analysis of these Queensland climate
indices for evidence of climate variation or change, particularly within the past 10 to 20 years. The spatial and
temporal variability of Queensland rainfall (Lough, 1991, 1993) and temperatures (Lough, 1995) have been
#
CCC 0899-8418/97/010055-12
1997 by the Royal Meteorological Society
56
J. M. LOUGH
examined previously using a relatively large number of stations. These analyses were based on data only through
the mid 1980s. The present study uses data through the Southern Hemisphere summer of 1994–1995. We can,
therefore, consider how unusual the recent drought in Queensland has been and whether the trends towards higher
minimum temperatures and lower DTR (Lough, 1995) have continued through the early 1990s.
DATA
Rainfall
Seventeen stations with rainfall records extending back to at least 1890 were obtained from the Australian
Bureau of Meteorology (Figure 1). The choice of stations was based on quality of record, site location (to give as
extensive coverage of Queensland as possible), and that the monthly station rainfall was reported regularly in the
Monthly Weather Review, Queensland (published by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology). This allows the data
series to be regularly and promptly updated. Monthly rainfall at each station was totalled for the following
seasonal groupings: October–November (ON), December–January (DJ), February–March (FM), April–May
(AM), June–July (JJ), August–September (AS), October–March (summer) and April–September (winter). The
rainfall series are positively skewed so that average rainfall can be a poor measure of the most commonly
occurring rainfall total. For example, annual (October–September) median rainfall at the 17 stations ranges from
275 to 1693 mm, which is, on average, 5 per cent less than average rainfall (6 per cent less for summer and 15 per
cent less for winter). Interannual variability (the standard deviation expressed as a percentage of the mean) is also
high, 37 per cent for the year, 42 per cent for summer and 68 per cent in winter. Most of the annual rainfall at the
17 stations occurs during the Southern Hemishphere summer monsoon, on average 78 per cent in summer and 22
per cent in winter. The skewness and interannual variability of rainfall totals become more marked when the
Figure 1. Location of 17 rainfall stations (circles) and 6 temperature stations (triangles) used to develop regional indices. Georgetown is used
for both rainfall and temperature.
CLIMATE INDICES FOR QUEENSLAND
57
2-month seasonal totals are considered. To allow for this the individual station series were converted to
percentage rank anomalies (see Ropelewski and Halpert, 1987). For each seasonal, station rainfall time series, the
complete record was ranked from 1 to n, where n was the total number of years. The ranked series were
normalized by the number of years and multiplied by 100. The series were then expressed as departures from the
mean value of 50. This procedure allows comparison of rainfall series with different means and variances. The
transformed series for each season were then averaged for the 17 stations to give seasonal indices for the period
1890 (1891 for summer) to 1994 (1995 for summer).
Temperature
Six stations with monthly maximum and minimum temperatures extending back to at least 1910 were obtained
from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (Figure 1). The choice of stations was based on quality of record, site
location (to give as extensive coverage of Queensland as possible), lack of urban influence (see Lough, 1995) and
that monthly maximum and minimum temperatures were reported regularly in the Monthly Weather Review,
Queensland (published by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology). Again, allowing the data series to be regularly
and promptly updated. One of the six stations, Longreach changed observing sites in the late 1960s. Comparison
of the period of overlap between measurements made at the old and new sites provided monthly correction
factors (c.a. ÿ011 to ÿ013 C) which were applied to the old record. Monthly average, maximum, minimum, and
daily temperature range (DTR) were averaged over the six stations for the period January 1910 to March, 1995.
The combined station series were then averaged for the six, 2-month and two, 6-month seasons, as for rainfall,
and expressed as anomalies from the mean over the whole record period.
Southern Oscillation Index
El Niño–Southern Oscillation events have a major impact on climate in Queensland. The Tahiti–Darwin
standardized index of the Southern Oscillation was used as a measure of this phenomenon. The series was
averaged for the six, 2-month and two, 6-month seasons, as for rainfall and temperature.
Analyses
Changes in the series over time were assessed with linear trend analysis. Comparisons between series were
made using correlation analysis. Anomalies for the 10- and 20-year periods were assessed for significant
differences from the long-term mean using Cramer’s test (Mitchell et al., 1966).
RESULTS
Rainfall variations: 1890–1995
The Queensland summer rainfall index (Figure 2(a)), based on 17 stations, was very similar (r ˆ 0197, 1891–
1986) to the summer rainfall index published previously (Lough 1991). The latter was based on the first principal
component of summer rainfall at 39 stations in Queensland, which accounted for 49 per cent of the total variance.
This strong similarity between the two indices justified the use of the present (readily updatable) index based on a
much smaller number of stations. It also confirmed the earlier finding (Lough, 1991) that interannual rainfall
variations tend to be coherent throughout the state.
The variability and wet and dry periods of the summer index (Figure 2(a)) also characterized rainfall for the
three, 2-month seasons that made up the summer total (Figure 2(b–d)). None of these four series showed
significant year-to-year persistence or significant long-term trends, i.e. there was no significant tendency to wetter
or drier summer rainfall in Queensland over the 105-year record period.
The wettest 10-year summer period, 1971–1980, was also wetter in DJ and FM, and to a lesser extent in the
early monsoon season ON. The 1950s were also characterized by wetter summers, especially in ON and FM. The
58
J. M. LOUGH
Figure 2. Seasonal rainfall variations in Queensland: (a) summer, (b) October–November, (c) December–January, and (d) February–March.
Thick line is series filtered with 10-year Gaussian filter.
CLIMATE INDICES FOR QUEENSLAND
59
Figure 3. Seasonal rainfall variations in Queensland: (a) winter, (b) April–May, (c) June–July, and (d) August–September. Thick line is series
filtered with 10-year Gaussian filter.
60
J. M. LOUGH
Figure 4. Annual (April–March) rainfall variations in Queensland. Thick line is series filtered with 10-year Gaussian filter.
driest 10-year summer period, 1897–1906, centred on the extreme drought year of 1902 (see Gibbs and Maher,
1967) and was also evident in the component seasons.
Over the most recent 20-year period, 1976–1995, 13 of the 20 summers in Queensland were drier than usual.
This was most evident in the central part of the summer season, DJ. In the early part of the season, ON, it was
wetter in the 1980s and drier in the 1990s. This contrasted with the latter part of the season, FM, which was drier
in the 1980s and wetter in the 1990s. Averaged over the 20-year period, 1976–1995, summer rainfall was close to
average and for the 10-year period, 1986–1995, although drier than usual it was not significantly so, and ranked
only as the fifth driest 10-year period in the 105-year record of summer rainfall in Queensland. For the recent 10and 20-year periods both early (ON) and late (FM) season rainfall were close to average. Only in the central part
of the season (DJ) was the most recent 10-year period significantly drier than usual and ranked second after 1931–
1940. Thus the most recent summer monsoons in Queensland, although dry, do not appear to be particularly
unusual when considered in the context of the 105-year record. The dryness has been most consistent in the
central part of the wet season, DJ.
Winter rainfall in Queensland accounts for 20–35 per cent of the annual rainfall total. The Queensland winter
rainfall index (Figure 3(a)) was very similar to the previously published Queensland winter rainfall index (Lough,
1991; r ˆ 0197, 1891–1986), which was based on the first unrotated principal component of rainfall at 39 stations.
This similarity again demonstrated that a small number of stations captured the regional rainfall variations. None
of the winter indices showed significant persistence or significant long-term trends. The wettest 10-year period
was 1981–1990 but no 10-year period was significantly below the long-term mean apart from 1968–1977 in JJ.
Winter rainfall was close to average over the most recent 10-year and 20-year periods. Recent winter rainfall
variations in Queensland did not, therefore, appear to be particularly unusual when examined in the context of the
past 105 years.
There was a weak tendency for the amount of winter rainfall to be linked directly to the amount of rainfall in
the ensuing summer season (r ˆ 0125, 1891–1994) but not between summer rainfall and that of the following
winter (r ˆ 0103, 1891–1994). This relationship can be explained largely by the persistence of ENSO across
the Southern Hemisphere spring and the relationship between ENSO and both summer and winter rainfall in
Queensland (see below). An ‘annual’ mean rainfall index was formed as the average from April to March (Figure
4) to test whether there were any significant changes in the combined summer and winter series. There were
not— the annual series showed no significant trends or persistence and the most recent 10- and 20-year periods
were not particularly unusual in the context of the 105-year record. A similar result was obtained when the annual
series was based on the calendar year and the October–September (‘water season’) year (not shown).
7
Temperature variations: 1910–1995
As found for rainfall, the temperature indices based on only six stations appeared to represent state-wide
temperature variations. The correlations, over the period 1911–1987, between the present indices and a 13-station
CLIMATE INDICES FOR QUEENSLAND
61
Figure 5. Variations of summer temperatures in Queensland: (a) average, (b) maximum, (c) minimum, and (d) daily temperature range. Thick
line is series filtered with 10-year Gaussian filter. Dashed line is linear trend.
62
J. M. LOUGH
Figure 6. Variations of winter temperatures in Queensland: (a) average, (b) maximum, (c) minimum, and (d) daily temperature range. Thick
line is series filtered with 10-year Gaussian filter. Dashed line is linear trend.
63
CLIMATE INDICES FOR QUEENSLAND
index published previously (Lough, 1995) ranged from 0194 for DTR in summer to 0198 for minimum
temperatures in winter.
Average temperatures in Queensland have risen in both summer (Figure 5(a)) and winter (Figure 6(a)). The
trend towards warmer average temperatures was significant at all times of year apart from mid- and late winter (JJ
and AS) and was greatest in magnitude in early winter (AM, Table I). Average temperatures over the most recent
10-year period were the warmest on record in winter, AM, JJ, and ON, and were significantly above the mean at
all times of year except late summer (FM) and late winter (AS). Average Queensland temperatures in early winter
(AM) were 111 C warmer than the long-term mean in this recent period. Over the most recent 20-year period,
average temperatures were the warmest on record at all times of year except late winter (AS) and were
significantly above the mean in AM, DJ, winter, and summer.
Maximum temperatures have warmed only slightly in both summer (Figure 5(b)) and winter (Figure 6(b)). The
trend was not, however, significant at any time of year (Table I). The most recent 10-year period was the warmest
on record (although not significantly so) in mid-summer (DJ) and early winter (AM). Maximum temperatures
were the warmest on record for the most recent 20-year period (although not significantly so) in late summer
(FM) and early winter (AM).
Minimum temperatures in Queensland warmed in both summer (Figure 5(c)) and winter (Figure 6(c)). The
trend towards higher temperatures was significant at all times of year except mid-winter (JJ) and was greatest in
early winter (AM, see Table I). Over the most recent 10-year period, minimum temperatures were significantly
warmer than the long-term mean at all times of year. The warmest 10-year period on record was, however, either
1982–1991 or 1984–1993 (depending on the season) due to slightly less extreme minimum temperatures in 1994
and 1995. The most recent 20-year period was significantly warmer than the long-term mean at all times of year
except mid-winter (JJ) and was warmest on record apart from late summer (FM) and late winter (AS). Minimum
temperatures in early winter (AM) over this 20-year period averaged 1 C above the long-term mean.
The DTR in Queensland decreased in summer (Figure 5(d)) and winter (Figure 6(d)). The trend was significant
in all seasons except DJ, FM, and JJ (Table I), and the largest decrease occurred in early winter (AM). The DTR
was significantly below the long-term mean during the most recent 10-year period in ON, AM, JJ and winter.
This was not the most extreme 10-year period on record (1983–1992) because of a slight rise in DTR in 1994 and
1995. Over the most recent 20-year period, DTR was significantly below the mean in ON, AM, winter and
summer. In winter and early summer (ON) this was the most extreme 20-year period on record. For the other
seasons, the most extreme 20-year period was 1974–1993.
The relationship between the DTR and maximum and minimum temperatures varied seasonally (see Lough,
1995). In summer over the period 1911–1994, DTR was related most closely to maximum temperatures (r ˆ 0177,
significant at the 5 per cent level) than minimum temperatures (r ˆ 0100). Thus a decrease in DTR in summer
would appear to be due largely to a decrease in maximum temperatures. In winter, DTR was related most closely
to minimum temperatures (r ˆ ÿ0175, significant at the 5 per cent level) than maximum temperatures (r ˆ 0125,
significant at the 5 per cent level). Thus a decrease in DTR in winter would appear to be due largely to an increase
in minimum temperatures and a lesser decrease of maximum temperatures. These seasonally dependent
Table I. Trend ( C per decade) for Queensland temperature indices. Italic indicates trend
significant at the 5 per cent level.
Average
ON
DJ
FM
Summer
AM
JJ
AS
Winter
0107
0108
0108
0107
0114
0105
0106
0108
Maximum
0103
0106
0105
0104
0105
0102
0102
0103
Minimum
0112
0109
0111
0110
0123
0108
0111
0114
DTR
7 0 09
7 0 03
7 0 07
7 0 07
7 0 19
7 0 05
7 0 09
7 0 11
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
64
J. M. LOUGH
relationships between DTR and maximum and minimum temperatures were evident when each of the 2-month
series were examined and were also stable over time.
Linkages between rainfall, temperature, and El Niño–Southern Oscillation
Relationships between summer and winter Queensland rainfall, temperatures and the SOI were examined over
the entire common length of record and, to test for stability of the relationships over time, for three, 20-year sub
periods; 1911–1930, 1931–1950, and the most recent 20-year period, 1975–1995. The period 1931–1950 was
included as this has been noted in many studies because many of the teleconnections between ENSO and regional
climate anomalies (including Queensland, see Lough, 1991, 1995) appeared to weaken (Troup, 1965; Trenberth
and Shea, 1987; Elliott and Angell,1988; Gu and Philander, 1995).
Queensland rainfall was significantly related to the SOI in both summer and winter (Table II) with high rainfall
associated with anti-ENSO events and low rainfall with ENSO events. In summer, the strength of the relationship
weakened dramatically from 1931 to 1950 and in winter the relationship weakened from 1911 to 1930. The
relationship between Queensland summer and winter rainfall and the SOI was significant in the most recent 20year period.
Summer rainfall in Queensland varied inversely with the four Queensland temperature series (Table II). Lower
rainfall in summer (associated with reduced cloud and enhanced surface radiation) was linked to higher average,
maximum, and minimum temperatures and an increase in the DTR. These relationships were stable over time.
The relatively weaker relationship between rainfall and summer minimum temperatures was not significant from
1931 to 1950. The summer temperature series were significantly correlated with the SOI. The magnitude and
significance of the relationship was stable between the first and last parts of the record only for maximum
temperatures and DTR.
Winter rainfall in Queensland was not related significantly to average temperatures. Winter rainfall was related
inversely to maximum temperatures and DTR and related directly to minimum temperatures. Lower winter
rainfall was linked to higher maximum and lower minimum temperatures and an increase in DTR. The
relationship between winter rainfall and maximum temperatures was of greater magnitude over the most recent
20-year period than in the first part of the record. The relationship between minimum winter temperatures and
rainfall was not significant over the most recent 20-year period. Despite these differences, the relationship
between Queensland winter rainfall and DTR has remained stable and significant over the periods examined.
Only winter DTR showed a weak, but significant, inverse relationship with the SOI in winter.
Thus, DTR in both summer and winter varied inversely with Queensland rainfall and this relationship was
stable over time (lower DTR and higher rainfall). In summer, the relationship between DTR and rainfall was
linked more closely to changes in maximum than minimum temperatures. In winter, the DTR–rainfall
relationship was inverse with maximum temperatures and related directly to minimum temperatures (i.e. decrease
in DTR with higher rainfall associated with lower maximum and higher minimum temperatures).
Table II. Correlations between Queensland temperature and rainfall indices and the Southern Oscillation Index. Italic indicates
coefficients significant at the 5 per cent level.
Summer
Winter
1911–1995 1911–1930 1931–1950 1975–1995
RF and SOI
RF and AVT
RF and MAX
RF and MIN
RF and DTR
AVT and SOI
MAX and SOI
MIN and SOI
DTR and SOI
7 0 63
7 0 75
7 0 30
7 0 72
7 0 45
7 0 53
7 0 23
7 0 49
0159
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
7 0 76
7 0 81
7 0 57
7 0 76
7 0 57
7 0 66
7 0 35
7 0 69
0180
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
7 0 63
7 0 75
7 0 15
7 0 79
7 0 01
7 0 01
0 13
7 0 09
0116
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
7 0 77
7 0 85
7 0 54
7 0 68
7 0 33
7 0 52
7 0 02
7 0 70
1910–1994 1911–1930 1931–1950 1975–1995
0162
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
7
7
7
7
0154
0114
0134
0143
0172
0111
0109
0121
0131
7
7
7
0136
0124
0126
0154
0184
0114
0105
0118
0120
7
7
7
0156
0119
0123
0153
0176
0141
0107
0163
0158
7 0 04
7 0 58
0 30
7 0 70
0 12
7 0 10
0 22
7 0 31
0158
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
CLIMATE INDICES FOR QUEENSLAND
65
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
The first goal of this study was to determine if rainfall and temperature variations in Queensland over the past
century could be described by relatively simple indices. Indices of rainfall based on only 17 stations and
temperature based on only 6 stations closely match interannual variations based on greater spatial coverage of the
State developed previously (Lough, 1991, 1995). Both rainfall and temperature appear to vary coherently over
much of the State and a relatively small number of stations are necessary to capture that variability. The indices
developed here can be up-dated promptly, and therefore provide useful tools for monitoring climate variation and
change in this part of Australia.
The second goal of the study was to determine whether recent climate variations in Queensland (through the
Southern Hemisphere summer of 1994–1995) are in anyway unusual in the context of the 105-year rainfall and
85-year temperature records. Summer monsoon rainfall in Queensland has been below average over the past
decade but this does not appear to be outside the range of variability found over the past century. The 1950s and
1970s experienced wetter summer monsoons, which could account for reports of an increasing trend in eastern
Australia rainfall since about 1950 (e.g. Pittock, 1975; Nicholls and Lavery, 1992). There is, however, no
significant trend towards wetter or drier conditions in Queensland over the past century either during the summer
monsoon or the winter dry season.
In contrast, temperatures in Queensland show significant changes over time. Average and minimum
temperatures have increased significantly in both summer and winter and have been accompanied by a significant
decrease in the daily temperature range (DTR), as found in other parts of the world (e.g. Karl et al., 1993). The
changes in average and minimum temperatures and DTR have been of greatest magnitude in early winter (April–
May). The most recent 10- and 20-year periods have witnessed, overall, the highest minimum and average
temperatures and lowest DTR over the period since 1910. There is a weak indication that temperatures were less
extreme in 1994 and 1995, but there is insufficient data to assess whether this represents a reversal of the major
temperature trends.
The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a major control on Queensland rainfall variations in both summer
and winter. The strength of this relationship has been maintained over the most recent 20 years. The period 1931–
1950, as reported elsewhere, is characterized by a breakdown in the relationship between ENSO and Queensland
summer rainfall. The relationship between ENSO and Queensland winter rainfall broke down from 1911 to 1930.
The daily temperature range (DTR) is significantly inversely related to Queensland rainfall in both summer and
winter. Interannually, lower DTR is associated with higher rainfall and vice versa. The relationship between DTR
and Queensland rainfall has been high and stable over the record period. Summer rainfall variations are related
more closely to maximum than minimum temperatures, with higher temperatures associated with lower rainfall.
Lower rainfall in winter tends to be linked with higher maximum and lower minimum temperatures. These
relationships also appear to be relatively stable over time.
The cause of the decline in the daily temperature range (DTR) in Queensland is unclear. Interannually, a lower
DTR in summer is related more closely to a decrease in maximum than to any change in minimum temperatures
and is also linked to higher rainfall. In winter a decrease in DTR is related more closely to an increase in
minimum temperatures and is also linked to higher rainfall. Yet, the most recent 10-year period, when DTR in
Queensland has been at its lowest, has been characterized by lower than average rainfall.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Thanks to Barry Tobin for preparing Figure 1.
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