Forecasting South China Sea monsoon onset using insight from theory

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Monsoon onset over the South China Sea occurs in April–May, marking the start of the wet season over East Asia. Skillful prediction of onset timing remains an open challenge. Recently, theoretical studies using idealized models have revealed feedbacks at work during the seasonal transitions of the Hadley cells and have shown that these are relevant to monsoon onset over Asia. Here, I hypothesize that monsoon onset occurs earlier in years when the atmosphere over the South China Sea is already in a state where these feedbacks are more easily triggered. I find that local anomalies in lower-level moist static energy in the preceding January–March are well correlated with South China Sea Monsoon onset timing. This relationship remains relatively consistent on decadal timescales, while correlations with other teleconnections vary, and is used to develop a simple forecast model for onset timing that shows skill competitive with that of more complex models.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020GL091444
Number of pages10
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number6
Early online date24 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work was supported by the UK‐China Research and Innovation Partnership Fund, through the Met Office Climate Science for Service Partnership (CSSP) China, as part of the Newton Fund. The author thanks Phil Sansom, Adam Scaife, and Gill Martin for useful discussion on forecasting and cross‐validation approaches, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. The Authors.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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