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ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE LETTERS Atmos. Sci. Let. 7: 5358 (2006) Published online 9 August 2006 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.

com) DOI: 10.1002/asl.131

Total rain accumulation and rain-rate analysis for small tropical Pacic islands: a case study of Suva, Fiji
Vickal V. Kumar,* Ravinesh C. Deo and Visagaperuman Ramachandran
School of Engineering and Physics, Faculty of Science and Technology, The University of the South Pacic, Suva Fiji

*Correspondence to: Vickal V. Kumar, School of Engineering and Physics, Faculty of Science and Technology, The University of the South Pacic, Suva Fiji. E-mail: kumar
Received: 28 February 2006 Revised: 15 June 2006 Accepted: 16 June 2006

Rain-rate analyses using hourly data from 1990 to 2002 predict rain occurrence for 15% of the year while minute data for the period Apr 02Mar 03 resolve rain-rate more accurately and show rain occurrence of 2% of the year. It is estimated that <1% of the rain at the site is mainly convective. Rainfall analysis conrms its dependence on El Nino Southern Oscillation and convergence zones. Copyright 2006 Royal Meteorological Society Keywords: region rain-rate exceedance; El Nino Southern Oscillation; rainfall structure; tropical

1. Introduction
Rainfall is an important component of the global hydrological cycle, which is a key entity to drive energy circulation in the atmosphere. Rainfall is a highly variable parameter, both in terms of location and time (includes diurnal, seasonal and yearly variations). The landmass of Pacic islands is predominately small, hence the moist air circulation arising from oceans may signicantly affect rainfall patterns. Obviously, an understanding of long-term climate dynamics becomes necessary to investigate cumulative rainfall occurrences. The variations in the rainfall elds of small tropical Pacic islands are due to the dynamic nature of the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ), lying typically at about 5 N, and the South Pacic convergence zone (SPCZ), which stretches in an east-southeasterly direction from Papua New Guinea to Samoa (Basher and Zheng, 1998). Owing to the zonal and meridional shifts in the positions of the convergence zones seasonally, there appears to be an interannual variation of rainfall across the region. Together with the movement of the convergence zones, it has been established that El Ni o Southern Osciln lation (ENSO) also contributes signicantly towards rainfall variability in small tropical countries (Nicholls and Wong, 1990). During an ENSO event, the periods of high temperature departures from the normal are called the El Ni o (with generally high negative SOI), while the n opposite phase is termed La Ni a (with generally high n positive SOI). Driven by the weakening of the easterly trade winds during a typical El Ni o event and n the shift of the SPCZ eastward, there is an eastward shift in convection, causing the Fiji Islands to experience reduced rainfall. The delay between the onset of an ENSO event and the impact on the climate of Fiji
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depends on when the SPCZ begins to shift eastward. It is well known that many islands of the southwest Pacic (including Fiji Islands) suffered drought during the 19971998 El Ni o event (NIWA Climate Update, n 2002). The typical climate anomaly for Fiji during an El Ni o event is for drier and hotter conditions during n the wet and hot period, particularly from December to February, and drier and cooler conditions in the cool and dry period, particularly between June and August. Moderate to strong ENSO events are reported to have signicant impact on the rainfall at Nadi (western Fiji) leading to severe drought conditions while its effect is rather mild at Suva (eastern-central Fiji) (Mataki et al., 2006). In other words, the twin cyclonic vortexes generated by the effect of MaddenJulian Oscillation and the reversal of trade winds could contribute substantially to intense rainfall events during AprilJune in non-ENSO years. In addition to affecting total annual rainfall, it may also affect the rain-rates. The rain-rate plays a vital role for a wide variety of applications of regional interest, ranging from soil erosion to radio communication. In fact, rain-rate measurements assist communication scientists to estimate signal fading and its statistics (Bryant et al., 2001; Kumar and Ramachandran, 2004). The region is often prone to ash oods wich are primarily dependent on rain-rates rather than total rainfall accumulation. Rain-rate analysis is best represented by the cumulative probability distribution or exceedance curves. The exceedance of a particular rain-rate is computed as the percentage of the time, usually of the year, that a given rain-rate is exceeded. International collaborative efforts, such as the tropical rainfall measuring mission (TRMM) precipitation radar (PR), have shown that the rain structure in the tropics is a combination of stratiform and convective


V. V. Kumar, R. C. Deo and V. Ramachandran

distributions (Houze, 1997). Numerical evidence provided by Schumacher and Houze (2003) shows that 2580% of rainfall in the tropics indeed has stratiform rain structure. TRMM observations further reported that heavy rainfall in the tropics generally has convective structures, surrounded by less intense stratiform rainfall (Houze, 1997; Schumacher and Houze, 2003). Rainfall due to different structures may also show changes in their exceedances. Oceanic precipitation patterns are important since 70% of the earths surface is covered by ocean and such studies are of signicance to global climate change experts. Owing to the scarcity of ground-based data, remote sensing data are often used for monitoring precipitation. Meteorological data are normally collected at hourly intervals using conventional rain gauges. Reports published using these data seldom focus on rain-rate distribution and associated changes in rainfall structure. In this article, we present a more systematic study using long-term rain gauge data for Suva (Lat.: 18.08 S, Long.: 178.45 E), Fiji. Suva is located on the southeastern part of Fijis main island, Viti Levu (Figure 1) and the main measurement site was about 1 km from the coastline. By location, the rainfall at Suva is strongly affected by the southeasterly trade winds. Hence, this southeastern part of Fijis main island remains cool and wet while the western parts are mostly dry. From the meteorological records of Fiji, it is seen Suva has one of the highest rainfall accumulations. The general climatology of the Fiji Islands encompasses distinct wet (NovemberApril) and dry (MayOctober) seasons (Kumar and Ramachandran, 2004). Lightning studies based on remote sensing by the Lightning Imaging Sensor aboard the TRMM satellite and ground-based sensor network also show marked difference in the activity for the two seasons (Ramachandran et al., 2005). In this article, a 13-year average hourly rainfall data is analyzed to study the diurnal, monthly and

annual variation of total rain accumulations. Such studies are useful in determining the temporal rainfall distribution, and to quantify how rainfall patterns are dependent on various natural hydrological processes, ranging from the daily convectional cycles to longterm ENSO effects. Rain-rate analysis for a 13-year period is conducted to investigate changes in rain structure (if any) for the dry and the wet season. The rain-rates are also analyzed separately for the El Ni o n and La Ni a years. To determine the ne variations n in rain-rates, supplementary rainfall data from April 2002March 2003 (1 year), with an integration time of 1 min, is also presented.

2. Total rain accumulation

Figure 2 presents the total annual rainfall accumulation for Suva, Fiji, and the corresponding SOI from 1990 to 2002. Note that SOI is derived from mean sea level pressure, measured at Tahiti and Darwin, which, in principle, represents a particular ENSO event. The cumulative rainfall shows distinct interannual variations, with an average annual rainfall of 2804 mm. As clearly evident, the years 1993 and 1998 had signicantly low rainfall relative to other years. Correspondingly, the SOI values are highly negative, indicating the possible inuence of an El Ni o event. On closer examination, there appears to n be a correlation between measured annual rainfall and SOI. It becomes obvious that years that have negative SOI have experienced generally low rainfall (and periods of droughts) than the years with highly positive SOI (1996 and 19992000). Supplementary climate records from Fiji Meteorological Services support the fact that the years 1996 and 19992000 experienced occasional ooding, and were classied as years of signicant La Ni a effects. The years with momentous n El Ni o effects were 1993 and 1998, in which the Fiji n

Figure 1. A geographical map, showing (a) the Fiji Islands located in the South Pacic region, (b) the present measurement site, Suva, Fiji. Source:
Copyright 2006 Royal Meteorological Society Atmos. Sci. Let. 7: 5358 (2006) DOI: 10.1002/asl

Precipitation patterns in small tropical islands


4000 Annual rainfall 3500 Rainfall (mm) 3000 2500 2000 1500 1000 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 Years 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 SOI

3 2 1 0 1 2 3 SOI

Figure 2. Annual rainfall and yearly average of the SOI at Suva from 1990 to 2002. The SOI data is supplied by NIWA, New Zealand
450 400 350 Rainfall (mm) 300 250 200 150 100 50 0













160 140 Rainfall (mm) 120 100 80 60 1


10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Time of Day (hr)

Figure 3. (a) Seasonal and annual diurnal (b) rainfall variation from 1990 to 2002 for Suva

islands experienced the worst drought periods. However, the present results must be taken with caution, since rainfall is controlled by a number of contributing factors such as station distance from the ocean, station altitude, surface relief and elevation (Linarce, 1992) and even the sunspot cycle. There are some notable differences between SOI and rainfall amounts, such as that of 1991 and 2002. It is also evident from Figure 2 that mean rainfall amounts are higher from 1999 to 2002 than those recorded in the previous decade. This observation is consistent with predictions of the effect
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of global warming on the regional climatology (IPCC, 2001). According to the report, the average annual precipitation over the Pacic Ocean is estimated to increase by 0.3% for the 2050s and 0.7% for the 2080s. Studies also predict a lesser number of annual rainy days and an increase in the rainfall intensity, which increases the probability of having more frequent droughts and oods (Lal et al., 2001). The monthly total rainfall accumulation for Suva, Fiji, is presented in Figure 3(a). The average rain accumulation for the wet (NovemberApril) and dry
Atmos. Sci. Let. 7: 5358 (2006) DOI: 10.1002/asl


V. V. Kumar, R. C. Deo and V. Ramachandran

(MayOctober) seasons is 1740 mm (62% of the annual) and 1063 mm (38% of the annual), respectively. Increased rainfall during the wet months is possibly linked to the inuence of the dominant convergence zones, namely the ITCZ and the SPCZ, which generally move southward during the wet months. Research evidence attributes rainfall variability to the mean positions of the convergence zones. For instance, Rasmusson and Carpenter (1982) found that a southward shift of the ITCZ and a northward shift of the SPCZ in the austral summer (NovemberMarch) result in a smaller wedge-shaped dry zone and enhanced rain in the eastern and central Pacic. Importantly, their calculations derived from surface divergence maps indicate that large-scale vapor ux convergence leads to enhanced rain during austral summer. In addition, occasional tropical storms and hurricanes during the wet season contribute to the already high rainfall. During the dry (MaySeptember) season the southeast trade winds are prominent over the Fiji region (Mataki et al., 2006). Hence, the accumulating air mass over the Fiji group of islands descending from subtropical and temperate latitudes are usually cooler and accordingly have less moisture than the humid summer northerly from the tropics. This possibly leads to a decline in rain accumulation along the southeastern parts of Fiji where the present measurement site is located. Figure 3(b) plots the hourly (diurnal) variation of annual rainfall averaged over 19902002. The rainfall amounts are nonevenly distributed over the 24-h period. There is a notable increase in rainfall activity from 2 pm until midnight. From midnight till 9 am, rainfall is almost steady, though generally larger than at midday. The present nding is consistent with the ndings of Ramage (1952), whose rainfall analysis revealed an increase from midday. It is fairly well established that a limited vertical extent of atmospheric circulation, as well as lack of turbulence, possibly favors advection of warm air at low levels from sunset to midnight (Krishnamurti and Kishtawal, 2001). However, during the daytime, the actual lapse rate (temperature change with height) in the lower troposphere is larger than the dry adiabatic lapse rate. Such an atmospheric condition may lead to a more rapid ascent of air parcels because they lose density and experience increased buoyancy. Turbulent mixing is greatly enhanced under these conditions, promoting widespread air mass overturning, convective cloud development and increased rain during the afternoon and nighttime (Montheith and Unsworth, 1990). The afternoon maximum is probably due to the convection arising from intense differential surface heating by receipt of solar radiation during the daytime.

3. Rain-rate analysis
Figure 3(ab) indicates that rain events are most likely to occur in the wet season and between 14002400 h;
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however, they do not reveal any information about the rain-rates. It is more important to study the features of heavy rain-rates because of their role in ash oods and soil erosion. Given that the location of the measurement site is close to the coastline, rain is quite frequent. Figure 4 shows the exceedance curves of rain-rate computed using 13-year hourly rainfall records. The y values (commonly denoted as p) represent the percentage time of the year that a given rain-rate would be exceeded. The exceedance curve for the 13 years begins at 15% (of the year). This indicates that on an average the site experienced rain for 1314 h of the year. The duration calculated has signicant overestimation because the exceedances were based on the average hourly rain-rates. An average hourly rain-rate does not necessarily mean that it was raining continuously during that hour. As expected, the percentage exceedance at all rain-rates during the La Ni a years were always higher than the n El Ni o years. The La Ni a years had large periods of n n low rain-rates (light rainfall), which increased the total rain accumulation. The highest rain-rate of 50 mm/hr with an exceedance of 0.005% was observed during the El Ni o period. The at segment of this trace n indicates that the average rain-rate was 50 mm/hr for only 1 h during the two El Ni o years (1997/1998). n The exceedance curves, especially the one for the dry season, show that as the rain-rate increases, the trend of the slope of the curve gradually decreases from a large negative value, and then the trend is reversed. The point at which the trend changes is referred to as the breakpoint in the exceedance curve (Bryant et al., 2001; Pan et al., 2001). In Figure 4 the breakpoint is denoted by an arrow. Similar breakpoints have been observed in rain-rate analyses of other tropical regions, such as Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand (Pan et al., 2001; Ramachandran and Kumar, 2005). The breakpoint in the exceedance curve usually occurs at high rainrates. When the rain structure is stratiform, rainfall is widespread, with low rain-rates. This is dominant in temperate regions (Schumacher and Houze, 2003). In the tropics, however, when the cloud builds up, the water droplets are caught in updrafts inside the cloud and are vertically transported. This enhances the coalescence of water particles, resulting in convective heavy rain. It has been reported that as the rain-rate increases in tropical regions, the rain column diameter decreases (Bryant et al., 2001; Pan et al., 2001). Therefore, the probability of recording intense rainfall using a rain gauge is reduced, compared to that of recording stratiform, widespread light rain. This implies that from low to moderate rainfall p values will show the widely accepted log-normal variation. However, for heavy intense rain in the tropics, the variation of p would show a sharper drop. Thus, any change in the trend of the slope of the exceedance curves, as shown by the breakpoint, signies that rain structure changes from stratiform at low rain-rates to mostly convective at high rain-rates. Furthermore, the
Atmos. Sci. Let. 7: 5358 (2006) DOI: 10.1002/asl

Precipitation patterns in small tropical islands



Dry Season Average (1990 - 2002) 10 Wet Season Average (1990-2002) Average of El Nio years Average of La Nia years 13 year (1990 - 2002) average 1 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 Rain-rate (mm/hr)

Time exceedance of a year, p (%)




Figure 4. Rain-rate exceedance curves for Suva, derived using hourly rain-rate measurements for 19902002
10 Time exceedance of a year, p (%) Rain-rate (mm/min) 1 0 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2 2.2 2.4 2.6

0.01 Dry Season 0.001 Wet Season Cumulative Apr02-Mar03 0.0001

Figure 5. Rain-rate exceedance curves for Suva, derived using minute rain-rate measurements from April 2002 to March 2003

exceedance curves show that the wet seasons have higher rain exceedance and relatively high rain-rates when compared with dry seasons. However, the breakpoint appears to be more evident for dry season compared to the wet. This may be attributed to the fact that the increased surface temperature favors the formation of convective cells. The maximum average rain-rate for the 13-year period was found to be 70 mm/h with corresponding exceedance at 0.004%, indicating that on an average, for 0.35 h in a year, the site received 70 mm/hr rain. In the tropics, heavy rain-rates that are generally due to convective rain structures are often shortlived. By undertaking measurements at hourly intervals, the
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presence of heavy rainfall due to convective rain structures was possibly absorbed by the cumulative effect when averaged over an hour. If the rain-rate occurrences and structures were to be determined more precisely, integration time ought to be reduced. Therefore, to understand the ne structure of rainfall, 1-year (April 2002 to March 2003) rain data was measured with 1-min integration time and plotted, as seen in Figure 5. For these measurements, a tipping bucket arrangement of diameter 20-cm with a calibration of 0.2-mm per tip was interfaced with a programmable data logger, which recorded the tipping time-step at an accuracy of 0.1 s. The cumulative plot more accurately indicates that the site experiences rain for 1.5% of
Atmos. Sci. Let. 7: 5358 (2006) DOI: 10.1002/asl


V. V. Kumar, R. C. Deo and V. Ramachandran

the year (130 h), which is signicantly lower than that computed from Figure 4 using the hourly rainfall. The convective rain structure becomes dominant after 2.2 mm/min rain-rate, which is the breakpoint rainrate with exceedance 0.006%. This indicates that less than 1% of the total rain at the measurement site is mainly convective. This may be due to the physical size of the island and the close proximity of the site to the ocean. Similar to the 13-year cumulative curves, the wet month has high rain exceedance, while the breakpoint is more pronounced for the dry months and for rain-rates greater than that at the breakpoint, the exceedance curve shows an asymptotically decreasing trend, indicating saturation of rain at the measurement site.

The authors wish to acknowledge the Fiji Meteorological Service for providing some data for this article.

Basher RE, Zheng X. 1998. Mapping rainfall elds and their ENSO variations in data-sparse tropical Southwest Pacic Ocean region. International Journal of Climatology 18: 237251. Bryant GH, Adimula I, Riva C, Brussaard G. 2001. Rain attenuation statistics from rain column diameters and heights. International Journal of Satellite Communications 19: 263283. Houze RA. 1997. Stratiform precipitation in regions of convection: a meteorological paradox? American Meteorological Society 78(10): 21792196. IPCC Climate Change. 2001. The Scientic Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, New York. Available from: Krishnamurti TN, Kishtawal CM. 2001. Diurnal variation of summer rainfall over Taiwan and its detection using TRMM observations. Journal of Applied Meteorology 40(3): 331344. Kumar V, Ramachandran V. 2004. Rain-attenuation measurement at 11.6 GHz in Suva, Fiji. Electronics Letters 40(22): 14291431. Lal M, Nozawa T, Emori S, Harasawa H, Takahashi K, Kimoto M, Abe-Ouchi A. 2001. Future climate change, Implication for Indian summer monsoon and its variability. Current Science 81(9): 11961207. Linarce E. 1992. Climate Data and Resources: A Reference Guide. Roultage: London. Mataki M, Koshy KC, Lal M. 2006. Baseline climatology of viti levu (Fiji) and current climatic trends. Pacic Science 60(1): 4968. Montheith JL, Unsworth MH. 1990. Principles of Environmental Physics, 2nd edn. Edward Arnold: London. Nicholls N, Wong KK. 1990. Dependence of rainfall variability on mean rainfall, latitude, and the Southern Oscillation. Journal of Climate 3: 163170. NIWA Climate Update. 2002. National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. New Zealand. Pan QW, Bryant GH, McMahon J, Allnutt JE, Haidara F. 2001. High elevation angle satellite- to-earth 12GHz propagation measurements in the tropics. International Journal of Satellite Communications 19(4): 363384. Ramachandran V, Kumar V. 2005. Invariance of accumulation time factor of Ku-band signal in the tropics. Journal of Electromagnetic Waves and Applications 19(11): 15011509. Ramachandran V, Kumar S, Kishore A. 2005. Remote sensing of cloud-to-ground lightning location using the TOGA of sferics. Atmospheric Science Letters 6: 128132. Rasmusson EM, Carpenter T. 1982. Variations in tropical sea surface temperature and surface wind elds associated with the Southern Oscillation/El Ni o. Monthly Weather Review 110: 354384. n Ramage CS. 1952. Variation of rainfall over south China through the wet season. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 33: 308311. Schumacher C, Houze RA. 2003. Stratiform rain in the tropics as seen by the TRMM precipitation radar. American Meteorological Society 16: 17391756.

4. Conclusions
The maximum in SOI, of +2.8 and annual rainfall of 3500 mm, occurred in 1999. In 1993 and 1998 the SOI values were low, 1, and Fiji experienced drought during these years. All the months have an average rain accumulation greater then 150 mm, with 62% of the total rainfall occurring during the wet season. Average diurnal variation of the annual rainfall is found to be smallest (84 mm) between 10 am and 1 pm. The rainfall tends to be high from 2 pm to midnight, with a maximum of 140 mm occurring around 10 pm. Rainrate analyses using minute integration provide more accurate information about the rain-rate distribution, indicating that the site experiences rain for 2% of the year. The hourly samples overestimate the exceedance at low rain-rate (15%). The probability of exceeding any given rain-rate was found to be (i) greater during the wet season than during the dry season and (ii) greater during La Ni a years than during El Ni o n n years. A signicant feature of the rain-rate exceedance curve for the region is the presence of the breakpoint, which occurs at high rain-rate. The occurrence of breakpoint signies that the rain structure changes gradually, with increasing rain-rate, from stratiform to mostly convective and is more evident during the dry season. The minute samples show a breakpoint exceedance of 0.006%. This suggests that less than 1% of the total rain at the measurement site is mainly convective.

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Atmos. Sci. Let. 7: 5358 (2006) DOI: 10.1002/asl