Seasonal Climate Outlook Rainfall Archive

Frequently Asked Questions

Three-month Rainfall Probabilities

MEDIA RELEASE - ISSUED 14th February 2001

Three-month Seasonal Climate Outlook Summary: Rainfall probabilities for Autumn 2001

Neutral rainfall probabilities

The National Climate Centre's outlook for total Autumn rainfall shows the chances for above average (median) totals are close to 50% in most areas (see map below). In other words, as far as the Bureau's statistical outlook scheme is concerned, below or above average falls are about equally likely.

The main reason for this is the generally mixed sea-surface temperature patterns in the Pacific and Indian Oceans . The central Indian Ocean is cooler than average and has been cooling strongly, although waters south of the Bight remain warmer than average. The tropical Pacific has been a little cooler than average for several months and maintains some of the features of a weak La Niņa pattern.

Most interest at the moment is centred on the Pacific Ocean to see if the early signs of an El Niņo event unfold. El Niņos often, but not always, result in reduced rainfall over eastern and northern Australia. While the majority of computer models are not predicting an El Niņo at this stage, a few are for the second half of the year and so the possibility cannot be disregarded.

Background Information:

  • The January Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was +9, almost the same as the +8 recorded in December. These values are consistent with a weak La Niņa.
  • This outlook represents a summary, more detail is available from the contact people or from SILO.
  • Important: Probability outlooks should not be used as if they were categorical forecasts. More on probabilities is contained in the booklet "The Seasonal Climate Outlook - What it is and how to use it", available from the National Climate Centre.

More information on this outlook is available during normal office hours from 8:45am to 5:30pm (EST) Monday to Friday by contacting the following climate meteorologists in the National Climate Centre:

Grant Beard on (03) 9669 4527
Robert Fawcett on (03) 9669 4603
Bill Wright on (03) 9669 4781
Scott Power on (03) 9669 4085.

Archive of previous Seasonal Climate Rainfall Outlooks

Archive of previous Seasonal Climate Temperature Outlooks

January 2001 rainfall - Decile Distribution.

November 2000 to January 2001 rainfall - Decile Distribution.

probability of exceeding median seasonal rainfall
Click on the map for full resolution.

Information on tropical cyclones


Information on tropical cyclones
The tropical cyclone season around northern Australia extends from November to May. The average number of cyclones per season is 9.4 (mean from 1949/50 season to 1993/94 season), with a standard deviation of 3.4. Cyclone activity in this region is related to the El Niņo-Southern Oscillation phenomenon, with fewer than normal cyclones during El Niņo episodes, and slightly more during La Niņa episodes. Below is a map showing the extreme bounds of the Australian Tropical Cyclone Region (Australia's area of responsibilty).

australian tropical cyclone region

Frequently Asked Questions

A:General statements about the probability or risk of wetter or drier than average weather over a three-month period. The outlooks are based on the statistics of chance (the odds) taken from rainfall and sea surface temperature records. They are not, however, categorical predictions about future rainfall, and they are not about rainfall within individual months of the three-month outlook period.

A:Being above or below the median rainfall, average maximum temperature, or average minimum temperature for the three-month period.
The median is a useful measure of "normal" rainfall. In the long term, rainfall is above median in one half of years, and below median in the other half.
For example, from July to September at Mackay in Queensland, one-half of 3-month rainfall totals have been below 80mm, and one-half have been above. If rainfall was above 80mm in that period it would be "wetter than average" or above median. Over the long haul there is a 50% chance of this occurring. In terms of odds this is even money.
Note that the average maximum temperature is the average of all the daily highest temperatures for the period.
Similarly, the average minimum temperature is the average of all the daily lowest temperatures for the period

A: In the places and seasons where the outlooks are most skilful, the eventual outcome (above or below median) is correctly given the higher chance about 70 to 80% of the time. In the least skilful areas, the outlooks perform no better than random chance or guessing. The rainfall outlooks perform best in eastern and northern Australia between July and January, but are less useful in autumn and in the west of the continent. The skill at predicting seasonal maximum temperature peaks in early winter and drops off marginally during the second half of the year. The lowest point in skill occurs in early autumn. The skill at predicting seasonal minimum temperature peaks in late autumn and again in mid-spring. There are also two distinct periods when the skill is lowest - namely late summer and mid-winter. However, it must always be remembered that the outlooks are statements of chance or risk. For example, if you were told there was a 50:50 chance of a horse winning a race but it ran second, the original assessment of a 50:50 chance could still have been correct.

A: Very unlikely. There is a certain level of natural variability in the climate which is chaotic and unpredictable. This is particularly the case with rainfall. For example, rainfall in a season can be significantly above average in one region, and significantly below average less than 50km away.

A: As another tool in risk management and decision making. The benefits accrue from long-term use, say over 10 years. At any given time, the probabilities may seem inaccurate, but taken over several years, the advantages of taking account of the risks will outweigh the disadvantages. For more information on the use of probabilities, farmers could contact their local departments of agriculture or primary industry.

Definitions and Explanations....

THE SOUTHERN OSCILLATION INDEX (SOI) is calculated using the barometric pressure difference between Tahiti and Darwin.

The SOI is one indicator of the stage of El Niņo or La Niņa events in the tropical Pacific Ocean. It is best considered in conjunction with sea-surface temperatures, which form the basis of the outlooks.

A strongly negative SOI (below -10) is characteristic of El Niņo, which is often associated with below average rainfall over eastern Australia, and a weaker than normal monsoon in the north.

A strongly positive SOI (above +10) is characteristic of La Niņa, which is often associated with above average rainfall over parts of tropical and eastern Australia, and an earlier than normal start to the northern monsoon season.

El Niño & La Niña

El Niņo translates from Spanish as "the boy-child", and refers to the extensive warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

La Niņa translates from Spanish as "the girl-child", and refers to the extensive cooling of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. The term has recently become the conventional label for the opposite of El Niņo.

See for more on SOI and El Niņo.