Interannual variability of tropical cyclone activity in the southern South China Sea

TitleInterannual variability of tropical cyclone activity in the southern South China Sea
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsZuki, Zabani M., and Lupo Anthony R.
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Date Published2008
Keywordsclimate variability, El Niño, tropical cyclones

A study of tropical storm activity in the southern South China Sea region was carried out for the period of 1960 to 2006 using data obtained from the UNISYS website archive, which was provided to them from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JWTC) best track data. This study was motivated by two particularly costly storms that impacted Malaysia during the 1996–2001 period. This study demonstrated that November and December were the most active months for tropical cyclone activity in this region. A majority of these storms attained tropical storm intensity. Also, a majority of the tropical cyclones originated within the study area near Malaysia as opposed to moving into the area. The long-term trend showed that there has been a slight increase in tropical cyclone activity in the region, but the trend was not statistically significant. A study of the interannual variability revealed that there was more (less) tropical cyclone activity in the region during La Nin\~{}a (El Nin\~{}o) years. Longer-term variability, such as that related to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, was not found in the analysis here. Using spectral methods confirms that there was significant El Nin\~{}o–related variability in climatological quantities such as monthly sea surface temperatures or pressures. Finally, the background climatological state was examined in order to determine whether or not the atmosphere in the region was more conducive to tropical cyclone formation or maintenance during active years. It was found that the most active years were associated with warmer SSTs in the study region, relatively weak 200–850 hPa wind shear, a warm-core structure, more water vapor, and more cyclonic low-level relative vorticity, and these were all La Nin\~{}a–type years. Nonactive years were associated with weaker wind shear, less water vapor, and a more anticyclonic (vorticity) background, regardless of whether the SSTs were warmer or cooler, and most of these were El Nin\~{}o–type years.