Australian tropical cyclone season outlook

The tropical cyclone season runs from 1 November to 30 April


Average to slightly above average number of tropical cyclones likely for Australia

  • An average to slightly-above-average number of tropical cyclones are expected for the 2020–21 Australian tropical cyclone season (November–April).
  • On average, there are 9 to 11 tropical cyclones each season in the Australian region, four of which typically cross the coast.
  • La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean and average to warmer-than-average ocean temperatures to the north of Australia have influenced this year's tropical cyclone outlook.
  • In La Niña years, the first cyclone to develop across the Australian region typically occurs earlier than normal, around the middle of December.
  • In La Niña years, the date of the first tropical cyclone to make landfall over Australia is typically in early January.
  • At least one tropical cyclone has crossed the Australian coast each season since reliable records began in the 1970s.
  • Cyclone formation is rarely spread evenly throughout the season; often quiet periods are followed by bursts of activity.
  • Tropical lows that do not intensify into cyclones, or lows that are the remnants of older cyclones, can still produce damaging winds, widespread rainfall, and dangerous flooding. These impacts can extend beyond the tropics into southern areas of the country.
  • Like tropical cyclones, the number of tropical lows that form during La Niña years is typically greater than the number which form during non-La Niña years. 

Outlook influences

This outlook is based on the status of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) over the preceding July to September. Sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean have been below average since May and remain below average. La Niña was declared on 29 September 2020. All surveyed climate models suggest ocean temperatures will remain at La Niña levels until early 2021. Atmospheric indicators of ENSO are also consistent with La Niña patterns.

Ocean temperatures are currently close to average to the north and northeast of the country, and marginally warmer than average to the northwest of Australia. Climate models predict waters to the north of Australia will be warmer than average in the coming 3 months, marginally increasing the likelihood of cyclones developing.

Tropical cyclone activity in the Australian region has large variability from year to year, due to the influence of naturally occurring climate drivers, such as ENSO. The number of tropical cyclones in the Australian region is generally higher with La Niña. In recent decades, the annual number of tropical cyclones that form in the Australian Region has decreased, from an average of 11 in the 50 years since 1970.

Outlook by region

The outlook indicates that an average to slightly-above-average number of tropical cyclones is most likely in the Australian region and all sub-regions for 2020–21.
  • The Australian region has a 66% chance of having more tropical cyclones than average, which is the same as a 34% chance of fewer tropical cyclones than average. Typically, around four tropical cyclones cross the Australian coast in a season. Outlook accuracy for the Australian region is high.
  • The Western region is forecast to experience an average number of tropical cyclones this season, with the likelihood of more than average at 63%. The chance of fewer than average is 37%. Typically, about 15% to 40% of tropical cyclones in the Western region create coastal impacts. The average number of tropical cyclones to form in or pass through the Western region is seven each season. Outlook accuracy for the Western region is low.
  • The Northwestern sub-region has a 63% chance of more tropical cyclones than average and a 37% chance of fewer tropical cyclones than average. Typically, five cyclones form in or pass through this area each season. Around 40% of tropical cyclones, or their associated tropical lows, affect coastal areas of the Northwestern sub-region. Outlook accuracy for this region is moderate.
  • The Northern region outlook suggests a near-average number of tropical cyclones with a 57% chance of more tropical cyclones than average and a 43% chance of fewer tropical cyclones than average. Typically, the Northern region experiences between 2 and 3 cyclones. About three-quarters of the tropical cyclones in the Northern region impact coastal regions. Outlook accuracy for this region is very low.
  • The Eastern region outlook has a 67% chance of more tropical cyclones than average, with a 33% chance of fewer tropical cyclones than average. The average number of tropical cyclones for this region is four, and about a quarter of tropical cyclones in the Eastern region make landfall. Outlook accuracy for this region is low.

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