The Effects of Complex Terrain on Severe Landfalling Tropical Cyclone Larry (2006) over Northeast Australia

Ramsay, Hamish A.; Leslie, Lance M.
November 2008
Monthly Weather Review;Nov2008, Vol. 136 Issue 11, p4334
Academic Journal
The interaction between complex terrain and a landfalling tropical cyclone (TC) over northeastern Australia is investigated using the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–National Center for Atmospheric Research (PSU–NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5). Severe TC Larry (in March 2006) made landfall over an area of steep coastal orography and caused extensive damage. The damage pattern suggested that the mountainous terrain had a large influence on the TC wind field, with highly variable damage across relatively small distances. The major aims in this study were to reproduce the observed features of TC Larry, including track, intensity, speed of movement, size, decay rate, and the three-dimensional wind field using realistic high-resolution terrain data and a nested grid with a horizontal spacing of 1 km for the finest domain (referred to as CTRL), and to assess how the above parameters change when the terrain height is set to zero (NOTOPOG). The TC track for CTRL, including the timing and location of landfall, was in close agreement with observation, with the model eye overlapping the location of the observed eye at landfall. Setting the terrain height to zero resulted in a more southerly track and a more intense storm at landfall. The orography in CTRL had a large impact on the TC’s 3D wind field, particularly in the boundary layer where locally very high wind speeds, up to 68 m s-1, coincided with topographic slopes and ridges. The orography also affected precipitation, with localized maxima in elevated regions matching observed rainfall rates. In contrast, the precipitation pattern for the NOTOPOG TC was more symmetric and rainfall totals decreased rapidly with distance from the storm’s center. Parameterized maximum surface wind gusts were located beneath strong boundary layer jets. Finally, small-scale banding features were evident in the surface wind field over land for the NOTOPOG TC, owing to the interaction between the TC boundary layer flow and land surface characteristics.


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